Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tan your hide

When we butcher in late fall the local meatman sents the pelts of the lambs back home with us. Since I do not like to waste anything, they get tanned.
For some reason this year my oldest daughter aquired the job of loading the hides in the wheelbarrow and hauling them from the trailer to the barn (this makes for fond memories of growing up on a farm)
For me that meant out of sight, out of mind! Until a few days ago, when a friend of mine came over to get some fiber, which happens to be stored in the barn as well.
What a warm welcome we got, as several rams heads were peaking at us over the rim of the wheelbarrow, still attached to the hides along with legs and tails.
This left my wee ones to ponder over how we could put these sheep back together...
Luckily my friend and her son are farm people as well, so (animal) body parts do not alarm them to much.
Yesterday was spent seperating heads, legs, tails and specific male parts from the hides. All that was left to do is salt the pelts liberaly and leave them to dry. Then they will be sent off to finish the tanning process and returned as stunningly beautiful pelts - nothing attached!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Who rules the roost?

So much for planning a vaccination day! I should know better! It seems in my world the more I plan the less goes according to it. The wee ones both came down with a high fever this weekend. When the girls are sick and miserable, it usually means mom and dad are as well. Needless to say after a sleepless saturday night and an equally restless sunday the sheep got put on hold!
Besides, by sunday a white blanket had been layed over my corner of the world. Yes, more snow, which you can be sure to get once you start thinking spring, which of course I have been doing.
I will try again to vaccinate this week, without a plan, just whenever I can squeeze it in! This should do the trick!
No lambs jet, even this morning I was almost certain to find one or two out there. Unfriendly weather is usually the top choice for the ewes to bed down and go into labor!
What I did discover was our rooster Tony getting a bit out of control.
It is nice to have a male that rules the roost and protects his chicks. Tony though, extents his dutys to attacking the wee ones, my older ones and me whenever he catches side of us.

Until a month ago we had a big old rooster who kept him in line, but how it goes with good old birds, he fell of the roost. Deader than dead!
No one to to make sure Tony knows his place anymore, besides the stick I am carrying around, which seems to be more of an annoyence to Tony than anything else.
For little ones a mean rooster can be a scary critter, since he will jump on top of them, scratch and peck, ultimatly trying to hurt their eyes.
Even for an adult it is not a pleasent experience to bent down to pick up some eggs, only to find yourself with a rageing rooster on your back.
So we might part with Tony soon and try our new barbeque.
The only backdraw is, I like having baby chicks around and that will be a tough one without Tony.

Does a chicken need a rooster to lay eggs?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Seaweed and udders

Earlier this week I filled up the sheep's seaweed supply. They are grassfed only, which means pasture or hay, no grain. I do supplement them with salt, minerals and seaweed. To round up this wholesome diet they get a squirt of good apple cider vinegar in their freshly pumped well water.
I know, I know it does sound rather granola, but it makes for very healthy sheep and it helps to keep their wool in top condition. And remember we eat our sheep as well. Since they live so healthy I guess we can skip a beat in our diets..... at least that's my husbands excuse when I find the occasional McDonalds evidence in his truck...
The animals are pretty in tune to what their needs are, so all the supplements are free choice and the last few days they were going for the seaweed. So while refilling I noticed the udders. Udders a sure sign of lambing time coming closer. The navajo churro ewes are the first ones to delight us with newborns. Usually they suprise me, but this time it seems I am ahead of them. These navajo ewes are so skittish, it is hard to get a good look at them. All the wool on their bellis does not help eather. We will just have to wait and see. Since it is getting close to lambing time tomorrow will be vaccination and garlic/molasses drench day.

I need to let my nighbours know, since I think this is one of their yearly entertainment highlights on the farm.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Meet the cats

On most farms you will find cats. Cats are good, they keep down the mice population, which you will find on most farms as well.
We have two cats, one is old, cranky and handicaped, the other young, beautiful and cross eyed.They have one thing in common: both live in the house - not anywhere close to the mice vincinitys.
How did this happen?
Taffy the old one, is fourteen, has already spent his seven lives, but must have been granted another seven by some nice fairy. So far he has outlived any other cat we have ever owned. Something is not wired right in Taffys brain. He will try to jump up a tree and miss the stump by two feet, or he'll try to get up onto the couch, but after a backward summersalt ends up back were he started.
Since he has lived with us all his live and survived stunts like jumping on top of the roaring wood stove or falling into a pan full of motor oil, he is here to stay. Even his digestive system is of rather delicate nature and will only tolerate the most expensive cat food. Otherwise he will puke all over the place, preferably on the carpets.
Did I mention Taffy will not catch any mice?
Two years ago I decided that the farm needed a barn cat. To the local shelter we went. There I was told that the cat of my choice would have to stay indoors for at least a month before I was allowed to introduce her to the barn. Right, I'm sure the kitty is counting the days before she can move to the great outdoors! Needless to say, I did not choose to take home another housecat. Meanwhile my oldest daughter had fallen in love with an indeed beautiful kitten.
Since it was Christmas she did get to take Charlotte home. Charly was the calmest kitten ever, quiet, sleeping a lot, I was smitten!
Turns out quiet and sleepy translated to sick, very sick kitten.
Sick kitten in car and hysterical daughter in tow we drove to the vet, to find out Charles was indeed very very ill and had to stay.
Three days later and $250 poorer we had a still sick Charly at home. Now we had to force feed this still amazingly strong creature. Let me tell you,cats do not like to be force fed, nope, not at all. The deal is, when a cat has a runny nose it cannot smell and if a cat cannot smell its food,it will not eat it!
Charles did fully recover and she does catch mice!
What's the catch? Turns out my husband is highly allergic to her - but she charmed herself into his heart and onto the couch!

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Sunday should be the day to rest, at least I'd like to think so.

For some reason at our farm it seldom is. On a beautiful day like today it is nearly impossible to stay inside and once you leave the house there is no chance to walk by the wheelbarrow. In the back of my mind I just know how much work lies ahead once spring is here, so it is nice to get a bit ahead. The biggest mistake I make is to look around and focus in on all that needs to be done, and then the curtain closes - I am majorly overwhelmed. This has the same effect on me than a week of fasting. Extreme crabbyness, which results in my kids making a wide circle around me instead of helping and a husband that will just plainly stay out of sight. This does not help me feel any better. So I have learned to take a deep breath and take little steps, one at a time (allright, I do try to sprint once in a while, but the shortness of breath keeps me at bay)

So as of today the chickencoop is only two wheelbarrows short of being clean and the ram pen looks presentable as well.

I will not start a list of what all still needs to be done. But if you are thinking of loosing a few pounds, please come to the farm and help me with my chores. The longer you stay the better shape you will be in and the happier you will make me and my family!

Let's call it the farm boot camp!

Friday, February 15, 2008

A spring day in February

What a beautiful day! Blue skies, sunshine and 43 *F.

Of course I had to sieze the break in winter weather and head outside. As soon as I set foot out the front door I could hear them. Little pleading voices, they are everywere. They all ask for the same: Take care of me, no me, I really need it more... It is impossible to ignore them, they surround me, remind me, force me to pick up rake, shovel and wheelbarrow. Since I am in the yard, I start right here and there. Every spring this is the hub of pineneedles, bones of all kinds of nature (for details please refer to the the dogs), shredded balls and much more.
After a few loads I needed a break from raking, so why not bring the chickens their daily leftovers. The chicken coop does not whisper, no it screams in my ear: Look at me and do something about it!
See, we have two Indian runner ducks, which decided to overwinter with the chickens. BIG no-no! Ducks love water and they will be spreading it very liberaly. These two runners did just that and now the coop is not just sawdust, straw and mostly dry chicken manure, now it is a watering hole filled with sawdust, straw and everything but dry chicken and duck manure.
Of course I picked up the shovel right away and started filling up the wheelbarrow. It was not until after I had packed it all the way to the top, that I paused for a moment and recalled how heavy this mud hole material was. To make matters worse, the manure pile is about 80 feet of steady uphill from the coop. So up I pushed, slowley, very slowley. The worst thing that can happen with a wheelbarrow overflowing with nastyness is having is tip over. So remember: slow and steady wins the race. I did manage to clean out two good loads. Now taking care of a few loads from one of the sheep paddocks was a cinch.
All that was left to do for today was filling up the water troughs. No big deal, since there are no frozen hoses at 43*F.

All in all a very productive day for me, since I did all this with the assistence of my two, four and two year old, little girls.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why you should always trust your gut feeling

Today I decided to ponder once more over my last sock knitting project. When I cast on the stiches for the "retro rib socks" (interweave favorite socks book) I had a funny feeling in my stomach. As I progressed on the first sock the feeling got stronger, something along the line: will this be enough yarn? What did I do: IGNORE IT , of course!
The first sock was quickly finished, the second cast on. By the time I reached the heal, my gut was screaming at me: Told you so, told you so...
Since I bought the yarn years ago in Germany, and of course it has been discontinued since then, there was no stopping at the friendly yarn store in town. I have searched high and low on the net, no luck!
So I guess I will have to find some solid color to match my sock wool and unravel part of the first sock, then find a way to finish this pair half way presentable.
The moral of this knitting tale: Never, never ignore your gut feeling! Or, if in doubt, knit shorter socks, like these grey ones...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Looking ahead

After it rained last night and part of today, we are succesfully growing mud, mud and - some more mud!

Now the big question is: how can we turn this into a succesful business?

Any ideas? Please share them with me!

After making sure I put on rather snug fitting rubber boots, it was time to dig some more trenches to give the sheep and goats a break from their mud treatments. Pretty much all I could do for today.

Time to think ahead, think spring. Plan and lay out the gardens. Catalogs are arriving almost daily at a rate that can almost compete with the "growth" of the mud. This year I would like to bigger the spot for my dying plants. I got a fabulous book from Germany.It is the most comprehensive guide on how to use a wide variety of plants for dying wool and silk. It is by Dorothea Fischer and she covers well known dye stuff, but also introduces exotic ideas like red cabbage and mango. I promise to report on my experiments, which I hope to conduct often this year......
It might be a good idea to stop talking now and spin some wool instead!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Why oh why oh why

No running water today, all was frozen with a light sprinkle of snow which hid the underlaying ....perfectly.

When I fed this morning I looked at the ever deminishing hay pile and then my eye caught HER. And that is when I felt like rabbit reciting:" Why oh why oh why", does Hanni the angora goat always have to eat on top of the hay? Now you might think what is the big deal? Let me tell you. She does not just stand there and eat, no, she will happily drop some surprises while she munches along. Goats are like most grasing animals, where they poop they will not eat. So what this translates into is a rather big waste of hay and with skyrocketing prices of $190/ton this does give me a slight headache. Since the goats are so funny and heartwarming the headache does subside rather quickly.
I have four angora goats, actually they are not really my goats anymore, since a super nice lady from Colorado bought them and will pick them up in the spring.
She even does help to pay for the winter hay, so I really have no reason to complain! Funny enough Hanni is the only one that jumps into the feeder, the other three mind their manners and eat, like the book suggests, from the sides of the manger.
Once these girls arrive in Colorado they will assume they died and went to heaven, this is how much Becky cares for her critters. And let me tell you, it is the best feeling to now that the animals I have to part with go to a wonderful home!
Still I will miss Hanni, Nanni, Colleen and Socks. Until next fall when I have to buy hay again......

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A messy day

After a rainy night and a warm breeze blowing this morning, I decided a few hours this Sunday would be best spent outdoors.
This is the worst time of the year. Water, water everywere and since the ground is still frozen the wet brownish soupy mess has nowere to go. So it collects itself in ugly puddles or finds its way down the driveway past the front porch ( they never show that picture on pretty farm postcards). Beware, highly slippery when wet! Our pain is our neighbours entertainment. I am sure they get plenty of laughs peering our way.....
I do have to say our farm, at least parts of it are not the most inviting place once the big melting starts and probably will not make it onto the front page of any country lifestyle magazine!
So, what did I do today?
Well, I started by shoveling piles of shit (excuse my language, but that is what it looks like, smells like and subsequently IS). After that it was time to scrape some pathways for the once clear and now rather brownish essence of life.
Where does it go? The only way it can -which is, of course- down the driveway, by the front porch, the garden to finally puddle itself into a little unsightly pond
at the bottom of the hill. At least it is out of sight and smelling range. By the time I have things to do down there it will be well intergrated into the grounds!
All that is left to do now, is to fill the shelters with fresh, good smelling, golden straw!
Mimi, my only Babydoll sheep loves it, all the others prefer to hang out in, you guessed right, the not so perfect,soupy part of the sheep run!
Do not worry, this will not last for long, the sheep can go out on still snow covered, clean pasture if they wish to. Do they wish to? Let's not go there!
If you where thinking about purchasing some fleeces for handspinning or felting, do not crinkle your nose. The sheep will not lay down in the mucky areas, and they will be shorn in the spring before they start growing the wonderful clean fall fleeces I offer!
Now I will indulge myself with a hot soak in the tub and try not to think to much of all the snow and ice that is still to melt!

Friday, February 8, 2008

An afternoon at the vet's

Today it was time for Tiny, our 8 month old Komondor puppy to get spayed.
The last thing I need is a house full of puppies, no matter how cute they are.
Since I did actually not bring her to the vet, but a nonprofit organisation that holds spay and neuter clinics in this area I got to stay with her and watch the whole procedure. It was pretty uneventful, hardest part was to lift this polar bear puppy up and down the surgery table... and we did find a funny little growth under her tongue,maybe an old injury. Long story short, now she has a hole in her tongue as well as stiches in her belly - poor baby! Tiny was such a trooper - I am soooo proud of her. I know, I know she is supposed to be a sheep protection dog and not a cuddle pup, but I can not help it. She might just have to protect the kids and.... me!
So for tonight Tiny is sleeping in the kitchen, all bundled up in a blanket,while I really should check on my lambing supplies and see what I need to stock up on. The icelandic x navajo churro ewes manage to surprise me each and every year with their early lambing. So far their bellies are getting rather big but I did not get a good look at the udder jet, which tells me much more than bellies!

For now I will only check on Tiny, she might be getting a bit warm in the kitchen, since she never comes inside. Sweat dreams!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Welcome to the farm

Hello from the shepherdess, who feels very fortunate to live on a small farm in Western Montana.

In this blog I would like to share some of my joys and heartaches of farm life.
Raising sheep, shearing sheep, milking sheep.....
Cleaning fleeces, spinning wool, dying wool, knitting yarn into tales.....
Straining milk, making cheese, yoghurt and much more....
Trying to grow food for my family and animals in rather dry conditions....
Hearing the rooster crow every morning, reminding me to get up, stretch, greet a new day, feed the livestock before having breakfast with my kids and husband.
Lots to do, some tasks always the same, some everchanging...
Let me invite you to the farm, come and meet all who live here and see what is to come.
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