Posted on

A World Without Festivals

We just got news that DCSWF, commonly known as Rhinebeck, will be cancelled for 2020. Clearly, this decision makes sense: Dutchess County has a high caseload of Covid-19, and a festival where 60,000 attendees walk around in close quarters could be an invitation for disaster. From a vendor perspective, Rhinebeck is an expensive and time-consuming show to attend. It would have been challenging to attend Rhinebeck in a context of building occupancy limits or limited attendance and still have made the revenue we need to cover expenses. Earlier in June, we were informed that VT Sheep and Wool Festival was also cancelled for 2020. While we have signed up for a few other shows, those were our main events and an important source of revenue .

It’s really hard to envision exactly how we will sell our yarn in a world without fiber festivals. Customers need to feel the yarn. Yarn is a tactile experience . I am convinced that exposure to natural textures makes fibercraft as relaxing and soothing as it is. Moreover, fiber festivals connect our customers to the sheep. At the VT Sheep and Wool Fest, customers would often pet our sheep and then buy the wool the sheep gave, creating a beautiful, complete circuit. If one in one hundred visitors considers raising sheep and a few of those folks follow through, the future of sheepraising is a little more secure.

Both festival directorships are currently planning a digital festival. I very much hope that it will help fibersellers salvage this year. At the same time, I worry that with online shopping as their only option, fiberists and fiberistas will not branch out from familiar vendors and yarns. It’s easy and tempting to stick to old favorites, and reassuring that superwash Merino is as predictable as the sunrise. I hope, though, that our patrons will take a little risk to try something new even when touch is unavailable. It would be a great shame to see smaller self-raised vendors die off.

Just so we’re not leaving on such a glum note, I have two creative solutions to my worries above. One is that we offer samples of our yarn. I’m happy to send you a few yards to touch and knit up so you can touch the yarn before committing to a larger purchase. Second is that I offer simple websites to folks who need a helping hand getting their fiber flock online. I can also advise folks about setting up a webstore and choosing a platform. Get in touch if you are a fiber-seller who needs a little help getting online.

Posted on

Gratitude

At 7pm Sunday night, I rolled in to our lumpy driveway after a two hour drive home from the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival.  The frustrated lambs in the passenger area of the truck murbled slightly as I directed the vehicle down the farm field road and out to pasture.  I turned off the fence, tamped it under the truck doors and released our patient lambs back into pasture.  After two days of petting and poking, they were grateful for a return to green grass and friends.

I am also grateful for a return to green grass and friends, though mine actually happened at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival.  Vending at the festival for the fifth year now feels like coming home to friends and family.  I see familiar faces and remember conversations from prior years.  Visitors come to my booth to say that they have driven by my farm recently, or to share the project they made with yarn from my farm.  I am always floored by this – I never take for granted that people might take the time to seek me out to show or tell me that my work has had a little, tiny influence in their lives.

As always, Mom handled the complex knitting questions and helped to bolster the confidence of people who were timid about tackling colorwork projects.  She really has a gift for encouraging and teaching.  I appreciate my mother’s help so much.

IMG_20191007_085327_526
Cutest visitor of the day!

20191006_153051
This beautiful shawl from KnittyMelissa inspired many people to knit one of their own!

IMG_20191005_142842_026
Derby Line Border Leicester Yarn, on display

20191005_101807
Our miniskein array.

20191005_101804
We sold almost all of our roving and much of our BFL yarn.

20191007_143640
Did the ewes miss me while I was gone?  Hard to say…

Posted on

How Haying Works

By request, here’s a basic primer on how haying works!

First, some definitions:

Hay is grass and grass stems that animals eat.  It’s cut from fields that could also serve as pasture.  Correctly made, hay provides most or all of the nutrients an animal needs to survive the winter.  The best hay is greenish in color.  Whether fresh or in hay, the leaves of the grass provide the nutrition, while stalks and stems are roughage that animals often avoid eating.

Straw is the leftover stalk after a grain is harvested.  Oat straw and wheat straw are the yellowed, leftover stalks that the seedheads we know as oats and wheat grew on, respectively.  Straw is not a nutritious or complete ration for animals.

Silage is any crop that is stored in an anaerobic environment, effectively “pickled” for animal feed.  Commonly, corn is used as silage.  Corn growing at your local dairy farm isn’t palatable for people, but when the whole stalk is ground up and ensiled, cattle love it!  Corn silage is not safe for sheep, but Haylage, which is hay that is wrapped and slightly pickled is good feed for sheep.  Haylage and silage both require special storage to prevent pathogens that can cause catastrophic illness.

In all of the climates that have a dry season or deep snows, animals need some kind of forage for the period of time when grass is unavailable.  Winter forage production (both hay and root crops like mangels) and storage governed how many breeding animals could be overwintered, both before mechanization and now.  There was no use keeping an extra cow if she was just going to starve in March, so farmers took winter feed calculation seriously.

Making hay requires ripe grass and dry weather.  Ripe grass is a whole separate treatise, but a simple rule of thumb is that leafy species should have three leaves, and grass is best before the plants in the pasture go to seed.

Prior to mechanization, farmers cut hay with a scythe.  An efficient scythe operator might cut a couple of acres of hay in a day.   Without weather reports, farmers had to trust their wisdom and experience to predict the likelihood of 3-4 days of good dry weather.

Once the hay was cut, it needed to be raked up into windrows (long, linear piles) and then raked out again.  This ensures that the hay dries evenly, preventing damp spots that could rot your hay (and even cause fires) and excessive drying.  Hay that is too dry will crumble to dust during the baling process and be lost.

Before mechanization, hay was stored in stacks.  Most of us have seen childish renditions of farming where there are yellow haystacks everywhere.  That cultural idea is a relic from before the invention of baled hay.  Creating a haystack is a special skill that has all but vanished, though it is discussed in the book Far From the Madding Crowd, incidentally, a worthwhile read for anyone interested in historical sheepraising.

After two days of drying, with sessions of raking hay to spread it out and then raking it into windrows, modern hay is baled.  Bales are a nice, portable format to move hay around the farm to the animals that need it.

Three types of bales are common – small square bales, large square bales, and large round bales.  In the Northeast, small squares and large rounds are most common.

Small squares are probably what you are picturing if someone says the words “Bale of Hay”.  They are usually about 3/4 feet long, 18 inches wide, weigh about 35-45 pounds, and are easy to move with a bit of muscle.  We used this format of bale before we began making our own hay.  It was easy to load some in the bed of the truck, drive them to our farm and gradually feed them to the sheep.  For about 10 ewes, small squares were perfect.

However, when you start to manage large numbers of sheep, small bales become exhausting and impractical.  Back during my years working on a goat farm, we would feed upwards of 12-15 square bales a day for five to six months.  That’s a lot of bale-schlepping!  For my comparable numbers of ewes, we feed two round bales every other day.  Much less work for us since we have the tractors to do the heavy lifting for us.  We wrap our round bales in plastic to make those “marshmallow” bales you commonly see.  Not ideal, obviously, so we are looking for solutions that are better for the earth but ideally don’t require an enormous barn to store the bales.  We wrap the bales to protect them from damaging water, which can destroy a hay bale completely.

*****

For people interested in making hay, there are a wide variety of equipment options that cater to larger and smaller scales, different kinds of terrain, and personal preference.

We have two tractors, a 27 Horsepower Ford 1720 and an 80 Horsepower Zetor Major 80.  The Ford can power everything except our large mower and our baler.  The Zetor does those larger efforts, plus tough jobs like moving bales around and doing barn cleanout.

This is our smaller mower for small fields.  We have two drum mowers, one for small fields and one better suited to large fields.

20190629_143547

The drum mower spins at high speed, allowing small cutters to cut the grass evenly.  We prefer this mower to a disc mower because hitting a rock is less potentially catastrophic with this design.

20190629_143603

This is our side-delivery rake.  It’s a basic old rake – try to picture the two discs turning, causing a motion that always directs the grass leftward.  It neatly sweeps the cut grass into windrows.  I learned how to rake recently and I have to say that I enjoy the work.

20190629_143411

This is our tedder.  It is in a folded-up position right now – in operation, the spinning circles are in a line perpendicular to the tractor.  The tines on spinning circles pick up the mown hay and fluff it around, allowing it to dry evenly and breaking up clumps.

20190629_143431

 

Posted on

Logging On

Today, the loggers came to harvest some cedar, spruce, pine and poplar from our woods.

We went down the hill with our forester to see the loggers working on our land today. Our property finally froze-in, despite being rather wet, so they were able to get started yesterday. We watched the feller-buncher for a little while. Imagine a machine that neatly “picks” trees, leaving neighboring trees untouched. Turns out that chains for your skidder cost $3k per wheel, and a feller-buncher weighs 20 TONS, a weight necessary to prevent it from just overturning as it snips some trees and moves them to another area

Our land is fairly complicated to work on, since we have lots of streams and seeps moving into a plain ol’ swamp at the very bottom. We want to log the trees we can reach without leaving giant holes and ruts, without damaging root systems, and while leaving some of the best trees to reseed the property as well as some of the gnarliest to nurse those seedlings and to provide habitat (stick-straight regular trees with no holes and no seeds aren’t actually great habitat).

I also find it interesting to look into a world I don’t know well. When a tree is cut down, the best of it is used for high-grade timber. What is unusable for timber might become a fence post, and what can’t be a fence post is pulp, and what can’t be pulp is slash, which will help the ground recover. If a hurricane came through and the forest fell down of its own accord, the slash would shelter the seedlings replacing the lost trees, so leaving the slash makes the open area replenish more naturally, while providing habitat for animals who seek forest transition areas.

Much of the land will regrow into woods, feeding deer and other animals for years to come. Some we will move into pasture, stumping out a few areas. The key is to not bite off more than we can chew, pasture-wise. We need to be able to keep the brush down while the grass begins to grow. As soon as the brush is too thick to be mowed, we’ve lost and it will grow into poor habitat with low-value, low-quality woods.

To see the feller-buncher in action, check out our Instagram page!

Posted on

Getting Through Lambing

Twenty of our thirty-three ewes have lambed so far at Cloverworks Farm.  Thirty eight lambs have been born, with thirty six surviving.  One loss was a little BFL ewe lamb who failed to nurse overnight with her mother.  Another was 1627’s lamb, whom we had indoors and who just faded away, likely from pneumonia.  Though some amount of loss is usual, I am still disappointed with my failure to keep these lambs alive.  I’ve been intervening more since the first loss, feeling that I could have done more to warm and feed the lost lambs.

But the sad part aside, we have 34 healthy little lambs in the barn and two bouncy lambs in the house. Due to weather and mis-mothering, we have one lamb each from the recently-born triplets in our custody.  With Steven Jr. weaned and on his own, we can deal with lambs in the house again.   The lambs in the barn are happy and bouncy.  Since the oldest lamb is now four months old,  we have quite a range of sizes.   Some of the youngest lambs still haven’t figured out how to home in on their mother, so I’ve been helping 123 find her mom, 264, often.  All of the adults are struggling to tolerate the shear number of lambs who want to climb on their backs.

We are still waiting for the snow to melt and the pasture to start to green.  Not much by way of spring weather yet, other than a few days with highs in the 40’s F.

20180408_151422
Starting to look crowded in the barn!  

20180408_152315
The lamb with the bright yellow tag is three and a half months younger than the lamb in the foreground facing us.  That fella is about 2/3 the size of his mother right now.

20180408_151437
Some of the newest arrivals

20180408_153118
The bleakness of early spring.

 

Posted on

End of the Summer

 

20160814_191806

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!

IMG_20160822_204024IMG_20160823_203722

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.