Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Barnyard Cure For "What Ails You"

Today is November 19Th. It has recently turned chilly in our neck of the woods. When I walked to the barnyard this morning, I habitually look for signs of chilly sheep or goats, especially the goat kids. It still amazes me, even after all of these years, that they don't seem to get cold. I know, I know, they have wool and mohair coats on, but still.. it is cold out there. And, they lay on the cold hard ground. But, there they were this morning, laying peacefully, chewing their cuds.... all was well.
If you have never been in a barnyard full of sheep and goats, or any animals I suppose, when all is well,and things are in balance.. there is a sense of serenity that I have been hard pressed to find elsewhere. I guess that is why I continue to do this.
There are times, when slugging through the cold , and often wet conditions, can seem very unappealing. But, experience tells me that once I am dressed appropriately, and arrive at the barn, somehow, magically almost, the dread of miserable weather ... seems to evaporate. It is replaced by the feeling that all is well with the world. I guess we like to feel that we can control the world around us. One thing this farming life has taught me, is that it is certainly not true. Accidents and bizarre happenings, both delightful, and sometimes sad, happen in the barnyard as they do in other aspects of life. Perhaps knowing, that I can't control the events of life, makes being in this harmonious environment all that much more satisfying. Who knows really? I just know that my soul is at peace here, in the mud and manure, more than any other place on earth.
Now that it is cold, it might as well snow. The sheep and goats will stay much cleaner if it snows every few days.... the snow sort of pulls the dirt , right out of the fleece.
Back in the house, I have begun dyeing the new yarns that have just come back from the mill. I have some already in the studio, which are getting a great response from out customers and friends.It will be a couple of weeks before the remaining yarn gets dyed. You can't rush this.... I have tried, and all I got was muddy colors and frustration...
This coming Sunday, I hope to make the trip to New Hampshire to drop off even more fleeces, to be processed into yarn. This should be one of the nicest yarns yet, with a really high mohair content.. the return date for this yarn will be February, 2009..
I hope you are all staying warm, if you need any "sheep and goat therapy" just give us a call. We will sit you on a rock in the barnyard with a bag of carrots... you will be instantly more popular than you can imagine..

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Those Darn Sheep!

Anyone who knows me, knows how crazy I am about these sheep, and goats. I would, and have, done some pretty crazy things to keep them content. However, for the first time, they made me so mad, I did not speak to them for a day and a half!!! No back rubs, no singing to them, no treats out of my hand, NOTHING!
When people ask me if it is difficult raising sheep, I usually answer, "no, not really". For the most part, it is true. But I have realized that there are usually either good days with the sheep, or , really bad days with the sheep, hardly ever is there a "so so" day. I think I have been spoiled, as of late, with a long string of good days. And then, along came Thursday.
Before I get into the gory details, let me tell you that it one of the most challenging things in raising animals for fleece, is to keep the fleece clean and free of dirt and hay etc. This is no easy task. It requires much experimentation with different types of feeders, monitoring pastures for nasty weeds that can ruin a fleece... diligence and hyper awareness are definitely called for.
I spend summers pulling weeds and enjoying that while the sheep are eating pasture, there is little to no chance of them getting hay stuck in their fluffy soft coats. Grazing in the rain seems to enhance the softness and cleanliness of the wool. I have, over the years, made many well intentioned maneuvers that have compromised perfectly lovely fleeces. Last year for the first time, I put coats on the sheep when the grazing season was over, and they were back in the barnyard, full of hay, for the duration of winter. I admit , this is costly and labor intensive. As the fleece grows under those pretty grubby looking coats, the coats will need to be changed. If it gets too tight, the fleece is in danger of felting. So, we are constantly checking and changing coats. But, the payoff was amazing this past spring. When the shearer came, and the coats were removed, the "blankets" (the part of the fleece across the back and sides, most desirable for yarn") were perfectly clean... amazing! This saves hours of work prior to sending the fleece off to the mill, picking through each fleece to remove bits of hay and , god knows,s what else.
So, as the summer is winding down, and the sheep are spending more time in the barnyard, my mind goes right to the idea of putting the coats on. I was going to put them on last weekend, but I got a call from a local newspaper who were interested in doing a story on our farm CSA. I knew they were coming on Saturday to take some pictures. I decided that the fleeces were so gorgeous that I would wait a week to put on the coats.... what could it hurt to wait just one week? Right?
Well, I am sure you guessed it by now.... on Thursday morning, that question was answered.
I looked out the window, and somehow, by some miracle, the sheep were not where they were supposed to be. They were in an area that was well gated off, and overgrown with weeds. I ran to the barn, in my pajamas and boots.. rattled the grain can, and , like Pavlov's dogs, they all came running. I was thrilled to see them back in the barnyard, safe and sound.....until I looked up and they were COVERED in burdock's. I mean covered. Some worse than others. I was horrified....I wondered what happened to the huge , well secured gate that separated the sheep from this forbidden area. I walked down below, and could not believe my eyes, one of our wethers, named Rascal, who is a Blue Faced Leicester sheep, was wearing the gate around his neck, and he was spinning in circles trying to get it off of him. He was much happier to see me, than I was to see him... I released him from the gate....and secured the flock from the evil area. I then threw some hay out, filled the water buckets, and stomped into the house. The sheep were looking at me as if to say, "No treats?, no back rubs? where is our grain?" I stormed into the house, got dressed and headed to Saratoga for the day. I just could not look at them.
Later that night, Nancy and my son in law Stan, came to the rescue. In a calmer state of mind, we methodically went through the flock, picking and cutting our way to rid each fleece of its burdock's. I have learned a precious lesson, sometimes waiting a week can make a great deal of difference....
Here's to calmer days ahead....

Friday, October 17, 2008

October 18 & 19 2008

It is finally here, the weekend we wait for all year. The weekend of the New York Sheep and Wool Festival. The weather promises to be beautiful...
However, honoring prior commitments, I will not be able to attend this year. And, of all years.. The "Year of the Romney". Romney's are, a breed of sheep. And, they just happen to be the breed that I raise and adore. So, it seems very crazy that I will not be there for the biggest show in the country... boo hoo!
My commitment also takes me away from the farm this weekend. This is very unusual for me. However, anyone who would like to visit will be greeted by my partner, Nancy. Nancy, truth be told, does most of the barn chores. Our schedules just seem to work out that way somehow. She also takes great pride in the work that we do, the animals and fiber that we produce. So, if you are in the neighborhood, please stop by for a visit, and ask her to introduce you to Bonnie, our angora goat kid, she is really friendly.
It appears that our shares are sold out. It is amazing how fast they went. Our new yarn is on its way back from the mill in Canada.. and I still have more to send out. So, in just about 3 weeks the dying process begins. Anyone driving by the farm will see skeins upon skeins of freshly dyed yarn hanging on our line to dry.... just after the foliage is over with.. the colors will light up the landscape...
I hope you enjoy a wonderful weekend. Keep those wheels spinning and needles clicking!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Generosity of Others

Today I feel so very blessed by the generosity of others. Last week I had the idea to create a CSA for the yarns that we produce on our farm. The concept of Community Supported Agriculture has always seemed like such a logical idea. Sort of a "win win" for the farmer and the consumer.
For those of you who have not heard of the CSA concept, I will try to explain. The idea is that the farmer needs the money , up front, at the start of a season, to invest in growing food. Money for seeds, plants fertilizer etc. So, the consumer purchases a share, or two, for a set dollar amount. In return, the consumer, or shareholder, gets vegetables, or meat, all season. The value of the product is usually much greater than the dollars invested.
So, with not much more than the idea in my head,(and the help of dear friends who shared their email lists) I put the idea out there... and the response has been amazing. I think it is a true testament to what you can do when you have an idea and you don't let all of the self doubts and "what if's" get in the way. I did spend the necessary time to figure out how many shares I could safely sell so that no one would be disappointed.
Sometimes we spend so much time on the farm with the animals that we become isolated. This has been an enlightening experience for me. There are people out there, who enjoy great yarns and fibers, and appreciate what we do. To all of them my most sincere gratitude.
Now we can get back to the business of farming and growing great yarns....