Tuesday, July 3, 2012

One More Lamb

Two weeks ago I was outside inspecting the sheep and was stunned to see that one of the "one winter ewes" had developed an udder.  Sheep terminology lesson:  A lamb is any sheep less than one year old.  A one winter ewe is a ewe that has been alive for one winter and is no longer a lamb meaning just over one year old.  Icelandic sheep are a fast growing breed and it is possible to breed a lamb that was born in the spring their first fall.  It's a little controversial to some people though.  Generally it is believed that only experienced shepherds should consider breeding ewe lambs because they have more labor complications and even then it should only be done if the ewe lamb is in perfect condition for it. 

I'm a brand new shepherd.  We only just got our sheep last fall.  Our starter flock was 7 mature ewes, 3 ewe lambs, and 2 rams.  My intention was to only breed the 7 mature ewes and give the ewe lambs another year to mature.  Well, there was a very small whoopsie. 


The 3 ewe lambs were kept locked in a building the entire time the rams were with the girls.  When breeding season was over, I put the rams back in their barn on the other side of the creek and let the ewe lambs rejoin mature ewes.  Everything should have been perfect, but there was just one problem.  Luke, the ram lamb.

I had not set out to buy a third ram.  The lovely woman I bought my sheep from thought I might enjoy trying some Icelandic meat.  She thought I would butcher him, but (like the ewe lambs) he was a little small.  So I thought I should let him grow out a bit more.  He was registered and he was growing out very fine.  I decided to wait and sell him this summer as a breeding ram.  He turned out so beautiful!  But we couldn't keep him with the big rams because they were mean to him.  They'd ram him and keep him from eating.  So we decided to put him in the pasture with my husband's horse.  We thought, "oh, that's good.  He shares a fence line with the ewes so he won't be lonely."

Now I'm new at keeping sheep, but I did keep goats before.  I knew a ram could get a ewe pregnant right through a fence, but we use ELECTRIC fencing.  We thought we were safe.  We don't know if he got her through the fence anyway or if the power went out briefly or what, but we know it was him because all the other males were on the other side of the creek.

Back to my discovery that London (that's the one winter ewe) had developed an udder.  I shared the news with my husband and he had to come look for himself because we were just so surprised.  We agreed she was pregnant and we should watch.  Three days later the smallest, cutest little thing just bounced right out of the woods!  

This little lamb is Devon, born to London, courtesy of Luke.  Another ewe lamb making the final lamb count 9 ewe lambs and 3 ram lambs.  She's in the house in these pictures because at first we thought her mother was rejecting her.  I decided to try to get London to accept her one more time that evening and she took her right back!  I guess I was just worrying.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Why I Spin Wool (& why you should too, maybe)

When I tell people that I spin wool into yarn I almost always get one of two reactions. There are the crunchy, granola-eating, farmy people that think it's just too cool, and then there are the people that are genuinely surprised that I would bother. After all, anyone can go to the craft store and buy almost any kind of yarn imaginable in a rainbow of colors to make their socks, sweaters, or blankets. More to the point you can go to a department store and just buy some socks ready to wear for a couple of dollars.

Plus, I'm busy. They know I'm busy because they're busy. Everyone is busy. It's a chronic condition of our society.

And that's why I spin.

That's Martha on the left and Elizabeth on the right.  Of course my spinning wheels have names.  All spinners name their wheels.  Seriously.

No, my tree isn't still up.  This picture is from just before Christmas, I swear!

Being busy is not a good way to live. You can't think on things and reflect on happenings if you're always rushing to the next thing.

That's the first reason I spin. To slow down. There's something meditative about fiber sliding through your fingers, steadily working the treadle, and the quiet blur of the wheel turning. I find when I spin that it's not only me that's affected. My husband will pause in the doorway and take in the sight of me. The children are drawn to watch and ask (again) if I will show them how. My youngest child is autistic. Have I shared that yet? Well, he is. He's 8 years old and doesn't speak yet, but words are coming slowly. My autistic child will come and sit on the floor right in front of the wheel and hold his face mere inches away to feel the air move and look through the spokes. It slows the whole family down. Just like magic.


Another reason I spin is the intense pride and satisfaction I get from finishing something. This feeling greatly adds to my well-being. And it lasts for years. I made a quilt just before I got married 16 years ago. I still get a rush when I see one of my children sleeping under it. Almost as though the quilt is an extension of me, of my arms wrapped around my child.

Oh, now I'm getting all wistful and sappy. That is so not me!

So, maybe, you should spin too. Or crochet. Or knit. Or quilt. Or paint. Or you could be scatter brained eclectic, like me, and do all of the above.

If you think spinning could be your thing, I suggest you go to The Joy of Handspinning.  There are videos of different techniques.  The author has a real knack for teaching.  I learned from that site and other videos on youtube!  I still don't know any other spinners in real life.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Etsy Shop is Open

After lots of work and angst, the shop is open for business. I'm very nervous and very excited. I'll be adding more things to it in the coming days. Some things are still drying, curing, etc. so they just aren't ready to be listed. Here are some things that you can find over in our shop today:

I'm really pleased that I can make things I'm proud of and that people will enjoy! Oh! I nearly forgot to give you the link! As soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll add a gadget to the blog that will show you what's in the shop currently and take you straight there: Red Tartan Woolies

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Our Etsy Shop is Opening This Friday!

I just wanted to give my readers a heads up that our Etsy shop is nearly finished! I'll have some hand crocheted items, some beautiful (if I do say so myself) upcycled home decor items, all natural milk soaps and, of course, Icelandic wool goodies. I've got some prepared roving and some washed fleeces for sale for handspinners. Just a little peek for now.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Eating Trees

Did you know sheep like to eat trees? I mean that they really, truly like to eat trees more than anything else in the world? Treetops = Sheep Crack. Most of our land is heavily wooded. We have all these little trees that need to come down so that the grass can grow. We're not going to cut them all down, of course. I want to leave clumps of trees standing here and there for shade. Most of them have to go though, so I break them down now and then as treats for the sheep. They come running when they hear the trunk snap!

Lamb Pictures and Gratitude

I have not had time to immortalize our first lambing season the way I had planned. First I want to say our lambing season was an amazing success. I feel so blessed with the way things went. For people reading this who don't keep livestock, girls are (generally) much more valuable than boys. Females make milk and more sheep. I only need to keep one ram per 25 ewes to keep the lambs coming. I needed ewe lambs if I was going to be able to eventually have a sheep dairy. Keeping sheep is one thing, trying to build a successful business from sheep is another. I prayed all winter long to be blessed with ewe lambs the way Jacob was blessed with spotted lambs and goats in Genesis. Final lamb count: 8 ewe lambs and only 3 ram lambs. Thanks, Lord. These are twin girls, Eleanor and Maryanne born to Tilly. Another ewe lamb. Twins, a boy and a girl, born to Eva. She's the sheep in our header.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Big Emergency

Well. Macy was in labor all. day. long.

Here you can just barely see hooves poking out of her.

I waited patiently. After a long time I could see a little mouth and nose poking out too. Then I could see that Macy was getting very tired. So my Mr. grabbed her by the horns and I went in to get the lamb.

It was totally stuck! I pulled as hard as I could. Macy yelled at me. Loudly! I lubed up the baby with oil and pulled again! No movement at all! The baby was totally stuck. (Did I mention it was stuck?) I started to panic. I called the vet. I tried again. The vet didn't call back. I thought for sure that the lamb was dead. Suddenly the vet was there! He didn't call, he just came! I almost cried with relief!

So, we went to her. My Mr. held Macy by the horns and the Dr. pulled. And Pulled. AND PULLED! Out came the lamb! Alive! We were all surprised. A girl! She put her head up, tried to stand, and Macy started to clean her.

I paid the vet and named the lamb after his daughter. This is Macy and her new daughter, Emily.

All's well that ends well!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lambing has Started

We bred 7 ewes last fall. Our rams were wildly successful it seems because they all fell pregnant quickly. Two of our ewes have already given birth and one other is in labor as I write.

Introductions. This is Kelly. She gave us one lamb on Saturday, April 14th. She was bred to our bad boy, Fudge. It's most common for sheep to have twins, but this was Kelly's first lambing and it's common for first-timers to have just one lamb. It's a girl! Which is fantastic since we're working on increasing our flock.

And here is Willow. She gave us a boy and a girl! She was in labor for awhile. That ram lamb has a big head! It was a very difficult birth. For me. Lots of angst. I'm still not over it. Willow, however, is just fine.

There are five ewes left to deliver. I'm not sleeping well. I wake every few hours thinking about sheep. Counting sheep is not conducive to sleep for me! I've gotten up early for the past few days, pulled my jeans on with my nightgown and wandered outside without even combing my hair. (It's okay. I live in the country.) I count the sheep. I look at their rears to see if anyone is in labor. Then I stumble back to the house to make coffee. Thank goodness for coffee!

This is Gabriel. He sired Willow's lambs. He looks tough, but he's really sweet.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Good Grief

Boys are nothing but trouble.  Don't ever let anyone tell you differently.  As a mother of four boys, I ought to know.  And sheep boys are the worst kind of boys of all.

This is Fudge.

Fudge is a gorgeous, five year old ram that was born on Tongue River Farm.  That's important because they breed for milkiness.  Most Icelandic breeders I've contacted are breeding solely for fleece quality.  We want good, milky sheep since we're planning on using our sheep as dairy sheep.  So even though Fudge is a bad boy, we want to keep him for his milky genetics.

How is Fudge a bad boy?  Well, he threatens to ram our hands if we try to pet him.  He stomps his feet if we make eye contact too long.  He picks fights with our other ram, Gabriel.

But worst of all.  He rams inanimate objects.  Presumably, this is how Fudge has fun.

Here's a picture of what Fudge has done to our barn.

Thankfully, that's not a structural wall and we were planning on removing that stall completely anyway.  Here you can also see Gabriel and Fudge admiring the destruction.

Oh... fudge.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Merry Christmas to Ewe (Horribly Late)

If you're very observant, you may have noticed that there has been a great gap in the posts so far:  the first in October and now a bunch here in February.  What can I say?  Such is my life.  And yours too sometimes I bet.

Here are some pictures of the sheep that were too cute to keep to myself.  We use a live tree at Christmas and after the season is ended, we feed it to the sheep!

Om nom nomnomnom...

They eat it completely away so that all that remains is this sorry stick with some side shoots.  They love their Christmas!

Rug Yarn Love

So I bought these two delicious bumps of rug yarn from Morning Star Fiber in Apple Creek, Ohio.  Apparently, you can now order it through their online store.  Awesome!

According to J.C. (the mill manager) one bump will make one 3x5 rug.  This is true if you weave your rug.  I don't weave, I crochet.  It took almost all of both bumps for the rug I made.  It's 2x3.

Crochet uses more yarn than weaving but it produces a thicker, plusher rug.  And, oh-my-goodness, is this rug ever plush!  It's divine!  You kind of sink into it...


Where was I?

Oh, yes!  What did I do with the remaining bits of rug yarn?  I made sheep!  Icelandic sheep, of course.  Note the extreme cuteness of the spiral horns.

A Trip to Morning Star Fiber

Just before Thanksgiving our family took our wool to be processed at Morning Star Fiber in Apple Creek, Ohio.  We chose this mill because they also raise Icelandic sheep.  Icelandic wool is a primitive/exotic fiber so it's best to take it to someone that has lots of experience if you're not going to process it yourself.

We were led on a tour by J.C. Christensen.  That's him up there and down in the bottom right is my 2nd son, Alex.  We got to see all the (very loud!) machines and see all the great finished products that they offer.  Of course they make roving and all kinds of finished yarns, but they can also make huge sheets of felt and massive bumps of rug yarn.

I confess to falling madly in love with the rug yarn.

I mean, just look at the size of them!  They are huge!  That's my big size 11 foot next to them just so you can see the vast awesomeness of this rug yarn!

Ahem.  Anyway...

I allocated nearly half of the wool I took in for processing to be made into the wonderfully squishy stuff.  Obviously I couldn't wait for my own yarn to be finished so I had to buy the two bumps you see above to play with.  I'll show you what I did with them next post.