Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Big News

Meet Bramble Anna Belle. She came home with me on Friday. After two years of longing for Anna Belle to be in my flock, Kim generously made my wish come true.
I know how you will miss her, Kim. I promise she will be treasured here at Boston Lake.
Anna Belle was the calmest, sweetest ewe today while Clancy and I sheared her. She just leaned her head against my shoulder and enjoyed my snuggles while Clancy clipped away with the scissors. I love her already. She even won Clancy's heart with her beautiful manners and fine fleece. Her softness is just incredible.
Thank you, Kim!

The Big Day

Friday did not get off to the early start I had hoped for. But by 10 am I was zipping East on Highway 2 on my way to Becky's house to visit with her and Kim.

Quite a while back I agreed to meet the wood buyer from Texas on this date. I was using the stick delivery as my excuse to spend the day visiting Becky and her wonderful flock of Shetlands. Then Kim sweetened the deal with an offer I could not refuse. (More later.) At the last minute the wood buyer had to postpone our connection until after Labor Day. My cover was blown. Clancy's suspicions were confirmed-this trip was all about sheep and visiting friends. :)

I spent a whole afternoon in fun conversation with Becky and Kim. And I had the pleasure of spending some time with Becky's flock. Her BFL cross lambs are amazing, especially the youngest little ewe lamb, Dot. I had no previous interest in BFL's, but those cross-lambies were very persuasive. I'll have to think more about that. Plus, they were as cute as Shetlands with Bunny Ears. I want one! Then there was that little purebred Katmoget ewe lamb that had fleece like a cloud. (Becky wouldn't part with her or that adorable Dot.) I was in Shetland heaven.

I also got to try out a spinning wheel for the first time. I want one of those too. And Kim and Becky are up to all kinds of fun projects. It was like a Girls' Day Out for me. I had so much fun. Thank You, Ladies!

Starting with Thursday...

Life has been full steam ahead for the past few days. Such fun and good times. It may take me a few days to write about it all.

This past Thursday we wrapped up SOCCER practice for the summer. (With gasoline prices so high, Selena and I decided we wouldn't be driving the 40 mile round trip to town for boys' soccer league this year. Since Elmer (Selena's Husband) is a soccer coach and a very generous person, he offered to teach soccer to our kids twice a week over at Grandma's house.) Just like the matches we played earlier in the summer, it was grown-ups against kids for the final game.

With the exception of Elmer, who plays soccer with a team regularly and usually acts as referee for our games, Clancy and I, Selena, and Mom and Dad are ordinary people with ordinary stamina and fitness in the "organized sports." Meaning we wilt in the hot hot sun and huff and puff our way around the soccer field. "Is it half-time yet?"

Well, I guess Dad and Clancy have enough of a competitive nature to keep quiet. Sometimes I think they are playing a little too hard...maybe more is at stake in their minds? It's been more than 17 years since I played soccer in high school. I don't charge the ball like I used to. I'm pretty sure Selena, Mom, and I are just trying to avoid major injury. We consider ourselves large moving versions of those orange cones the boys practice around.

At any rate, our sons' soccer skills have improved dramatically with these private lessons. A huge THANK YOU from my family to UNCLE ELMER! You are a great coach.

Here is a photo of the team (my three and Selena's son) with Coach Elmer, taken during half-time. Don't they look like pros?

This is Dad, Mom, and me taken at half-time. What a miracle we are still breathing! :) I can tell you we laugh this hard pretty much all the way through the game. It's endlessly funny the way we look trying to play soccer. Healthy jests abound. We have great team spirit, though!

In case you are wondering.........we lost big time. The edge we had half-way through the season couldn't withstand the well-oiled machine the boys' team has become. Way to go Elmer. Way to go kids!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Emsket and Grey

These photos were taken a couple of February's ago. They are not the crispest images but I hope they illustrate the difference between non-Ag Emsket and Ag Grey.:

Sheltering Pines Dolce-an emsket ewe. No Ag sugar lips, light inner-ear color, pale eye-circles or underparts.

Emsket fleece parted. Pewter color near skin, sunbleached taupe color at tips.

This photo is of Rachel that same winter.She carries a single Ag gene. Sometimes her fleece is dark grey enough to resemble a "bluish hue" But she has the sugar lips, white eye-circles, and light inner ears as well. She has thrown non-iset solid lambs as well as Ag lambs.

This trio is AgAa Rachel (center) with two of her offspring: AgAg 2 year old Zora (left), and AgAa Kyve as a yearling (right). Even after his first shear, Kyve was a dark blue color. He maintained all the tell-tale signs of Ag though. Notice the "sugar lips" on Rachel even from this distance.

Say Cheese...

The boys said "HI," but they refused to leave the pool for anything but snacks. I couldn't blame them. It was over 95 degrees F. yesterday. Thank goodness today is a bit cooler. We also had a small shower pass through-the first in quite a while! It's nice to have the dust knocked out of the air.

Monday, July 23, 2007

'Atta Girl

Megan saves the day. For Herself anyway. Actually she's been taking care of this enormous breech of Canine Meal Rules for a couple of day's now. You know humans though, they are "Slow Learners."

A little background: Meg still gets a special puppy chow. I don't even think she likes this stuff, but she expects her due. Every morning I shuffle into the kitchen at 6 am to put on the tea kettle. If I forget to feed Megan right then, she will hold out for about three minutes, then she gets busy reminding me of my Most Important chores: The ones that concern Her. Megan will pick up her stainless steel dish and drop it on the wood floor which creates a fabulous CLANG. (Much more effective than the clinky nudging of said bowl that she previously employed.)

So now the chow is in the bowl. Sally gets put out for her morning jaunt and Greta slides in for her off-duty nap...

"Ah, but that delicious puppy chow in that handy different and tasty compared to the regular chow poor Greta has to eat outside in her dish...and it's sitting right in the path from the back door to the living room rug..."

"GRETA! Get out of there!"...and the culprit slips away to sleep off the full tummy feeling.

Meg, who has been exuberantly welcoming the groggy boys that are stumbling down the stairs (having been jarred from slumber by a loud CLANG), snaps to attention and comes to investigate the crime scene: "Dish, empty. Master, crabby. Greta scent leads from Dish to Rug. Greta the Dull lolls on Rug. Outrage!"

Apparently Master is inept. Such things should not occur. The time has come to put the matter into the paws of a more intelligent being...

For the past two days Meg has tucked herself into her crate when I open her food bin. OK, whatever. She wants to be fed in there?... fine with me. This morning I happened to drink my tea in the kitchen. I witnessed the elaborate measures Meg felt obligated to create in order to foil Greta from chow theft:

Get inept Master to put Dish in Crate. Pull Blanky almost all the way out of Crate. Heap large folds of Blanky on top of Dish. Dish completely disguised. Close Crate door. Master is well trained to open it for Me if I can't get it bumped open Myself. Go about my Important Business knowing Dish is safe from The Dull One.

Obviously my 6 am autopilot mode is not sophisticated enough to solve complex problems. Thank goodness Meg has things under control until the caffeine kicks in.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

And so it follows...

If Iset is a pattern like Ag grey... it would be found at the same genetic location as Ag grey.

Any one sheep could only carry two pattern genes. Therefore, an Ag Katmoget would not be able to also carry the Iset Pattern gene. Any heterozygous Katmoget, Gulmoget, or Grey sheep that didn't already have another pattern could theoretically carry the Iset pattern as well. But a homozygous Katmoget, Gulmoget, or Grey sheep would not be able to carry Iset. So it shouldn't show Iset either. Now, Solid, is also a pattern. But Solids sometimes go Iset, so maybe that sheep has one Solid gene and one Iset gene...

Since Grey and Katmoget patterns lighten the main fleece so much, it might be hard to tell if they are also Iset. I'm not sure I would recognize an Iset-Grey myself. Unless, maybe I had been watching it closely from birth for that very purpose.
Recognizing Iset in Solids and Gulmogets is easier? I don't have Gulmogets in my flock yet. (emphasis on the YET.) So I really can't comment on Gulmoget fleeces at all. I would love to hear imput from any breeders that have been working with Gulmogets about the occurance of Iset in those fleeces.
Saying that a homozygous Gulmoget could never go Iset, until perhaps old age, feels like I'm right out at the tip of that big limb I hopped up on in yesterday's post. I'm sure that is exactly where I am too. And what if the whole thing snaps and Theory 1 is blasted out of the water.....?
Well then, I would KNOW for sure Iset is not a pattern. The occurance of it would have to be hidden in some other place in the genetic code. After enough chipping away it will be found in a familiar genetic location or we'll discover a new location.
Who wouldn't like to know which pretty little lambs are going to be Iset by the time they are one or two years old? Maybe a lot of flock owners. Some people want mystery in their Shetlands and don't appreciate everything being pinned out like butterflies to a board. I can respect that.
I would be less reluctant, however, to have Iset in my flock if I understood how it was passed on to offspring. If I knew something concrete about it-like it will show if one gene is present-or it takes two genes to produce it-I could make more appropriate decisions about terrific Shetlands that just happen to be Iset too.

For now I'm going to scrutinize my flock for evidence that supports or defies the "Iset as Pattern" theory. Thinking out loud like this helps me clarify my ideas. I may be the first one to disprove my own theory. :)

Saturday, July 21, 2007


For a while now I've been wondering what exactly is Iset: Is it "age greying" that happens over time? (apparently) Is it a pattern? (doubtful) Can it be mistaken for a modified color?(possibly) Is it a marking? (who knows?) Is is something that can be identified at birth or within the first few months like Ag and Mioget? (hmmm. I wonder?)
That is the question I want answered. I have a theory. I can't prove it or disprove it yet. That will take time. And honestly, I don't care what gets proved. I would just like to understand Iset better.
My theory: Iset is a pattern. Like Katmoget and Gulmoget are patterns that are, visually, the "opposite" of each other. So Iset is the "opposite" pattern of Ag Grey. Ag lightens the undercoat fibers, leaving the fewer outer coat fibers dark in the fleece. Iset lightens the longer outer coat fibers and leaves the undercoat it's original color. It will be visible if a sheep is heterozygous for the gene. It could possibly be even more visible if a sheep is homozygous for the gene. Iset will not be visible if the pattern for it is not present in the sheep's genes. It is like Ag.
And the big buzzer goes.....EEEEEHHNNKK!
Oh, well. The best part about putting forward a theory is that there are usually people that want to disprove it. And that's OK with me. If other folks have some hard-core facts to contribute to my understanding of Iset, I'll be happy to give them thorough consideration and adjust my theory. I don't want to be chastised for trying to use my own brain. But I do hope that I am open-minded enough to welcome other flock owners' detailed observations. After all, I'm trying to satisfy my curiosity about Iset rather than trying to make headlines or waves.
I do have a bit of Iset in my own flock to work with: two adult ewes, and four of their lambs to keep an eye on. Two of those lambs are already first shear yearlings. The other two are babies. I also have one ram that maybe is a bit Iset on his shoulder this year. Compared to the other examples in my flock, it is really hard to tell with him. He is the sire of all four of the lambs mentioned above. I also have this ram's sire, who shows no white fibers at all, even though he's seven years old and his face is turning grey. Main point: I think if I am very observant, I might be able to answer some of my own questions.

This photo shows an unrelated het-grey ewe in the background, and a family trio up front. The center ewe is Sheltering Pines Dolce. She is emsket. Her entire fleece is uniformly modified. She was considered Iset until she was about 2 years old, though. I actually think she is an Emsket Iset. On the left is her black daughter, Boston Lake Delyth. Delyth has been sheared once. She had a rare light fiber here and there. But they were few and far between. I feel her color so far is a very dark cool black. On the right is Delyth's twin, Dova. She is obviously Iset. She still appears dark black at the root level, except for the large percentage of lighter, longer fibers.

Delyth and Dova are not modified. They each carry a modified gene from their dam, but their fiber color is still black. Their sire, Kimberwood Kavan, is the ram that has the faintest hue of lightening on his shoulder. I was not aware of these fibers until his second shear.
This ewe is Windswept Northwind. Her black '07 daughter, Raimin, is behind her. I consider her Iset.
I've heard some breeders comment that Iset will become a dominant trait in the flock if it is not controlled. But I want to know what it is I'm working with. If I know, I can breed for it or breed away from it. And hopefully not by chance. Since I understand Ag, I can control it in my flock. But Iset is not clearly defined yet. And yet it seems to have a stigma. Sometimes breeders proudly announce "Absolutely NO Iset fibers!" when they talk about fleeces. Celebrating that much over the lack of Iset fibers seems to set a certain tone for the reigning attitude toward Iset. I'll admit, the iset fibers in my fleeces don't feel as soft as the undercoat does. And most breeders and spinners want softness in a fleece regardless of the color, pattern, or length of staple. But Iset isn't a fault or a flaw. It just isn't overly popular... quantity...
Maybe it's undervalued? Maybe it's not understood very well? Maybe Iset's mystery makes it a bit of a nuisance? Why do some sheep go Iset and some sheep don't? I think that is a question that could be answered with time and attention. Hopefully I have enough of both to satisfy some of my own curiosity.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Hot Peppers

I'm not much of a gardener. I do know how to garden. And I do enjoy gardening. I just don't consider myself that successful at it. Perhaps it is because I come from long lines (on both sides of my family) of fabulous gardeners and I keep comparing myself. Both grandmas had gorgeous vegetables and flowers...My mother still raises a fine garden...And then there is me. :)
The one vegetable I can grow-which I don't remember being a strong suit with any of my family members-is the hot pepper. The first ones I ever planted were just because Clancy wanted them. I hated green peppers (the only kind I had tried), and I'm not a fan of hot food either. But Clancy loves spicy food and wanted some for his cooking so I gave it a try. Turns out, I love home grown peppers. Any kind. All kinds. I'm crazy about peppers now.
My all time favorite little pepper is Black Hungarian. I found it through Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, IA. It has the best flavor ever! The fragrance alone is wonderful. It is also a favorite of my sister and her husband from El Salvador. She's been hinting that I might want to share some of what's left in my dried pepper supply. I really should. But I didn't plant any Black Hungarians this year so it's my last...Oh, but I really should. She's a great sister. :)
This year I planted Clancy's favorite medium hot pepper, Beaver Dam. I also planted a red bell called King of the North, and the nice little pepper shown in the photo: Wenk's Yellow Hot. I can't wait to try that one out. I like to add a bit to my hummus instead of powdered Cayenne. I hope it can pull it off like the Black Hungarian.
Each year I try to get a little better at the gardening thing. This year I did not make great strides in that direction. I managed to put in the pepper and tomato transplants, and put in a few herbs, and that was about it. Clancy has a little corn and green bean operation going in another bed, but I'm not involved in that. For a couple that does almost everything together, we go our separate directions with the vegetable crops. He likes to try out his methods and I like to try out mine. Clancy is quite adept at growing delicious water melons, squash, beans, etc. I grow the peppers and a few herbs that were highly valued for some medicinal purpose once upon a time. My artimesia absinthum (sp)(otherwise known as wormwood) is a sight to behold-almost 5 feet tall! A little wormwood goes a long way...say a teaspoonful for a bad case of internal parasites. I grew it for the sheep. Whenever I rotate them past the garden I give them full access to it. They will nibble the first leaves of it in spring when it is tender. After that they taste it and walk away. But at least they could eat it if they needed to.
The mullein does well too. But I didn't plant that, it just comes up on it's own and lends a majestic, legitimate look to the otherwise barren little patch I try to cultivate. After three year's of trying, I finally have two tiny echinacea seedlings. They grow great guns down the road at Mom's house so I figure I'm just cursed.

Which is why I am so proud of the peppers. Every spring I work really hard to get all the transplants into my collection of pots. And then for some miraculous reason, they thrive. Thank heaven for small mercies...and little hot peppers!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Beyond the Brick Wall

Being conscious today was like running into a brick wall. It was an effort to even perceive that it was possible to move beyond it. Fathoming a plan of action to move forward was like trying to catch beads of mercury as they rolled across the table top in all directions. Pure confusion. The plan was implemented with baby steps.

And now here I am. Present. Focused. Back from oblivion.

This is depression. There are many kinds. I can relate to some of the varieties on certain levels. But my type is Disthymia. I had symptoms when I was a tiny child. And I won't "get better." There are certain chemicals my brain needs that my body simply does not create on it's own. Thankfully, there is a medication that provides a good portion of those chemicals for me so I can "do better."

Today's episode was triggered by the deadlines I imposed upon myself yesterday. I had been putting off some decisions about work, a trip, having the boys' friends over, and whether or not I would allow the kids to attend a PG-13 movie for a friend's birthday party. It took me several weeks to muster the clarity to get these decisions made. Yesterday was a strong day and I bit the bullet and made a few calls to finalize plans. This morning I woke up already in crash mode.
I happen to have the personality type that can hardly tolerate deadlines of any kind. Even good ones. Even a fun trip to pick up sheep I've bought is imposing. Out of a sense of duty, I try to arrange dates and times well in advance so the sellers do not get completely annoyed with me. And then I don't think about it until the day before. Only then because I have to. Making decisions are almost impossible for me. So having to make them sends me for a loop. That it took me half a day to come to terms with my mind's natural defense (total shutdown) is amazing progress for me. It used to take weeks or months.
So after a three hour "nap" this morning, which consisted of wrapping myself in two down comforters in our darkest bedroom with a fan blowing directly on the peep hole I had left for me to breath through, and another huge box fan on for extra white noise, I finally emerged from my cocoon. I hadn't really been sleeping. The boys would come in and ask permission for this or that and I responded coherently. It was just a time and space with limited sensory input. My senses were still reeling from the written-in-stone decisions I had made. I couldn't take in any more.
The first step was to sit up. Took a few minutes. Then turn off the fans. Adjust to the sound of life going on around me. Step into the hallway. Adjust to the idea of light. Walk downstairs. All of these actions being undertaken with determination. Very deliberate baby steps back to the land of the living. At any moment a minor anxiety attack could send me plodding back to bed. The goal is to put distance between me and soft darkness. It's disorientating work, but eventually I find a pen and paper and start making a list.
Put really small jobs on the list. Figure on building up momentum. Add the idea that after a few of these baby steps I will make a second list of larger tasks. Write that down. Write down what the real goal is: to ground and center, focus on the people around me and their needs, participate. Join the business of life again.
And I do love my life. Disthymia is not the by-product of living a life I don't truly desire. It just is. A medical reality. Loving my life is the reason I work so hard to get back to it. The reason I sought treatment. The reason I take that little anti-depressant every morning. The reason I'm writing this blog entry.
It took me a long time to come to terms with "mentally ill" being one of my descriptors. But I have. Acceptance is the better part of healing in this case. Having Shetlands in my life has helped immensely with the live, daily example of peace. The serenity of a ewe flock is something I can tap into. Part of what helps is just speaking out about it. Sometimes I have the courage to talk to a friend or acquaintance that is ignorant but curious about the subject. I talk to my husband and children about it. They have become incredible advocates. They recognize the signs of me having an episode and they have developed strategies to ward it off. Sometimes even a good hug can derail the onslaught and give me the impetus to steer myself toward a healthy exercise and then things are back on track again. I do not underestimate the power of love. Life is a blessed, precious event that I don't want to miss.
My personal praise goes to God. Somehow He kept me alive to the point at which therapy and medication could intervene. From there I learned how to intervene on my own behalf. But for the grace of God. . . The very least I can do is recognize His Love in all things. Life is, indeed, beautiful. And I want to live mine beyond the brick wall.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I can't wait to spin this!

Windswept Unicorn (F2 Drum Jings) second fleece.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Nobody told me...

lambies cry harder the second day of weaning.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Poor Baby

Today was the big day. Clancy and I moved Kavan over to a much larger pen. Then I pulled our ram lamb, Tormey, away from his dam and added him to Kavan's pen.

This is the first time I've ever removed a lamb from it's dam. Up till now we've had only ewe lambs and one cross-bred wether. I left them with their mothers until breeding season.

Tormey is the only one that is disturbed by this new arrangement. It doesn't seem as though his dam, Northwind, misses him. She still has her daughter, Raimin, to keep her company and comfortable. I think things are going pretty well. He isn't crying too much-only when he hears a ewe baa every once in a while. The entire ewe flock is out of site and quite a few acres away, so the baas are fairly distant.

Kavan has been good to him too. With all the new grass and weeds to eat, Kavan could care less about an unimportant ram lamb. Tormey didn't even attempt to face off when they first encountered each other, so there wasn't much hierarchy to get settled. I've never seen Tormey challenge any sheep actually. He's a pretty easy-going little dude.

I've even been pondering the idea of putting him to one of my ewes this fall. The more I look at him the more pleased I am with him. His fleece is the silkiest I've ever had in my flock before. I think his horns and his conformation are very good. And the tail I was so disappointed in when he was born seems to be getting more and more proper as he grows. This is my first chance to evaluate a ram lamb from Kavan, so I'm willing to let this guy grow out and show me what he's got to contribute. I'm just hoping he'll get over missing his mommy in a day or two.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Rotational Grazing

There are a lot of really fantastic resources out there for anyone who is interested in learning more about rotational grazing. I credit Small-Scale Livestock Farming by Carol Ekarius for my inspiration and education on the subject. I took these three photos hoping to illustrate how we do our rotational grazing here. Unfortunately, the green of the new lush area is about the same green as the used up portion the sheep are grazing.
Because I don't have any permanent fencing yet, I use electronet during the grazing season. As soon as I can push the posts into the ground (approximately April) I put the sheep out. I'm usually able to keep them on pasture until we put breeding groups together around Thanksgiving. Two rolls are interlocked to form a large area for my ewe flock (8-12 sheep) and one roll is used for the rams and their buddies (2-4 sheep). Then I move the fencing according to how fast the grass is growing. If it is growing fast, I move the fencing every day. If it is slow growing, I move the sheep every other day-or every three days. Sometimes-like in drought or early spring/late fall, I do keep the sheep in one area for a few days and suppliment with hay. But that gives the other areas of pasture time to recover. Every few days the sheep get that bit of fresh grass.
The top photo in this series shows an area (left side)that the sheep have been moved out of and then it has been recently mowed. The right-hand side of the fencing, with the black ewe, is showing some ground that the sheep have grazed. You can see I've thrown in some aspen branches which the sheep have stripped.
The second photo shows the area the sheep have grazed (left side) and the area they will be moved into (right side). Because this forage is up to my chin in height, we use a regular lawn mower to mow a path for the fencing. This saves us a lot of time and makes a nice trail for the sheep. Plus, it almost completely eliminates the chance of grass shorting out the fence. We set the mower height to HIGH so it does not damage the growth.
The last photo shows the sheep in the used up pasture (front) with the new pasture behind the fence in the background. It's not clear, but the growth is quite a bit higher than the fencing itself. We can't even see the sheep in there until they've eaten it down a bit. (Disclaimer: this field was re-seeded last year. Not all of our grazing areas are this lush or tall.)
One of the best parts of rotational grazing: the sheep KNOW the routine. They stand expectantly along the fence waiting for that first access to the new ground. I can tell they are happy. They also tell me when it is time to move them. After they've removed about 50% of the forage they will start to baa when I come out of the house. Yes, they have plenty left to eat, but they know I move them frequently so they expect more.
Moving fence every day is a big commitment of time and energy. Whether we like it or not, it has to be done; even when it is pouring rain, when the mosquitos are fierce, or when we have invitations to do other things. It just has to be worked into our schedule. In fact, I would say that moving the fence dominates our summer schedule. We plan around it.
We are looking forward to installing some permanent fencing soon. The field in the above photos will be our first project. It will be so nice to be able to put the sheep in there and not have to move them quite as much. We might even be able to take a family trip with our extra time! But even so, after three years of moving electronet for grazing, I've witnessed too many benefits to give it up completely. So far I've been able to manage internal parasites in the flock with diatomacious earth and garlic/apple cider vinegar. I do use a commercial wormer occasionally, but not very often. And the sheep just love to get on an area that is brand new. I think their minds benefit from the stimulation of having new territory to explore frequently. It also breaks some of pasture chores into smaller bits: clearing the whole farm of dangerous plants would be daunting, but I can easily inspect the next paddock and pull up the few that might be growing there in just a couple of minutes. (I think a milkweed plant is shown in the second photo forground for example. Since I love Monarch butterflies, this method allows the plant and the sheep to live side by side for all but the one or two days the sheep move through. Yes, we do inspect the plants and transfer the caterpillars to other milkweed plants in the area-that is one of the boys' responsibilities.)
It's a lot of work. Plain and simple. I would love nothing better than to never leave the farm and let the flock management be my primary focus. Clancy and my sons have other priorities. Hence the need for some permanent fencing. So now my goal is to blend the idea of larger permanent pastures with the ideals of fast-paced flock movement. Little by little...I'll figure it out.

Megan and the Butter Hound

Introducing the Center of the Universe. At least in her mind. If we forget, she does her best to remind us. Megan. Not a year old yet. Currently (read: at this very moment) making warp speed circles through the house in an attempt to get SallyDog to notice her and play. Meg is a rescue pup, so her parentage is unclear-she was found with her sister alongside a highway. But she's pretty much ALL border collie if you ask me. I had put out the word that I wanted a sheep herding dog. Meg was more than most people were willing to handle, and she herded everything, so I was the lucky one that was allowed to adopt her. She started on the sheep well, all the right tendencies. But my ewe, Dolce, decided she would just HAVE to murder the pup. After several attempts, Meg was watching her back so much that I decided to just give her a long break from sheep until she was older.
Enter the chickens. The last week of school the boys brought home six chicks from my nephew's kindergarten science class. Once they had feathered out we let them roam the yard. But we like to lock them in a large rabbit cage at night to keep them safe. Clancy started using Meg to herd the chickens in every evening. They wanted to roost in the cage anyway, so as long as Meg didn't rush, the chickens would stay headed in the right direction. She is excellent on her hold, down, and keeping the chickens between her and Clancy. And you can just see her grin when the cage door is closed and she knows she did her job. What a good girl! I figure she can work on her skills with the chickens, and this fall I will put her on the yearling ewes that she is already friendly with. We'll just keep the old ewes out of her way until she has a lot more confidence.
That is the plan anyway. It's clear to me that I would love Meg just as much if she turned out to be useless at the herding sheep thing. She's a gem. A true little love. Smart as a whip. A great family dog, and very well behaved considering her enormous energy level.
Speaking of of our dogs ISN'T! Greta Grub. She has discovered I usually leave the butter dish on the table after meals and she helps herself now. I chased her out of the house twice yesterday for that offense. And this morning when I made my toast she heard the clink of the knife on the dish and perked up her ears. I gave her the evil eye..."Don't even think it."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Our Rams

These photos don't really show off the great qualities of the rams that are standing here at Boston Lake Farm. But I wanted to introduce them anyway. The moorit standing with only one horn is Kimberwood Kavan. The moorit ram in the grass is Kavan's sire, Bramble Allister. The white yearling ram is Windswept Unicorn. His fleece has the most incredible softness, lustre, and crimp. Kavan and Allister have very uniform fleece. I am hoping to produce lambs eventually that have the best qualities of both lines.

Breeding plans for this fall are constantly reorginized. I am certain of a few matches though. Sheepy Hollow Rachel, (the grey ewe out on pasture in the last post) will be paired to Allister. I can't wait to see those lambs. I'm determined to keep Rachel's ewe lambs, and I'm anxious to keep a ram lamb out of her as well. I would like to put one of her sons over some of my other ewes since I love everything about Rachel.

I think Windswept Northwind will be put to Kavan again this fall. I'd like to repeat this breeding to see if I can get a super soft moorit EWE next time. Kavan also improved Northwind's weaknesses in both her 07 lambs. This is the kind of consistency I like to see.

Unicorn will probably get Sheltering Pines Dolce and her two yearling daughters, Boston Lake Delyth and Dova. They have double coats and I am hoping to improve the softness and get a more intermediate coat type. The lambs will probably all be white, but that will be a new color around here so I don't mind.

Boston Lake Sian, Rachel's 06 daughter, is the ewe I am really undecided about. I am leaning heavily toward putting her to Allister. This would be linebreeding granddaughter to grandsire. The hope that I could lock in some of the best features I see in her is the motive. She is an incredibly soft, crimpy black. Allister is also getting older. I'd like to try this linebreeding before I lose my chance. I calculate that there is plenty of time to put Sian to other rams.

Of course, I can't predict the future. Things go wrong...the unexpected always seems to happen. But I am trying to go with my hunch. I'm not sure I would care one way or the other if I missed my chance to breed her to Unicorn, but I would regret not doing the linebreeding with her at least the one time.

Such is the beauty and excitement of being a farmer that raises breeding stock. One has the opportunity to use intuition. My disclaimer is that I find no fault in using computer tracking methods and hard-core facts to make breeding decisions. I'd like to become stronger in my use of such. But I consider intuition a worthy tool as well. And I am the personality type that feels comfortable using it. In fact, I try to tap into it as much as possible.

For now, I am enjoying the view of my hansome gents out on pasture. Kavan is the exception; he's still in a pen so we can treat his wound easily. But he will soon get his own patch of grass, and then I'll put his 07 son in with him for weening. Kavan has done well without a buddy so far, but I don't like keeping him that way. Maybe I'll get a photo of little Tormey posted soon.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Hay Is In

327 bales are now stacked at the edge of the hay field, and they are tarped. What a relief it is to know that is finished for the year. And not a drop of rain on any of it.

We don't have a hay barn yet. So every year we try different places and methods to store the hay. This year we decided to stack the square bales along the edge of the field, which sits right alongside the road. So getting the hay off the field went faster than usual this year. Clancy drove the Bobcat with the extra huge bucket. The boys filled it with bales, and then we all stacked the hay once it arrived at the main stack. I have to say the boys did a great job. And they maintained enthusiasm for the work. That is the part that gives me the most hope for their future. Stacking hay is hot, sweaty, itchy work. And they were willing to do it.

Maybe it was the rides across the field in the bucket. That's always fun. For some reason the wildlife is always interesting during stacking too. The boys discovered three incredibly large unique spiders. One was a gorgeous wolf spider with a color we had never seen before. Millions of baby crickets were everywhere. Our old friend, the red tailed hawk was circling above. Whenever we get machinery out in the hay field that hawk shows up to exploit the frightened mice. Along the edge of the forest we also saw a delicate yellow/greenish bird. I think it was a warbler. It flew in right next to us (we were taking a break in the shade of the forest) and I was amazed at how tiny it was. A large insect was in it's beak. The tiny bird hopped around on some foliage near the ground, chirping a bit. Then a tiny baby version, even smaller than "Dickie," hopped up onto the branch, accepted the food, and then both were gone. The baby hopped back into the thick coverage of the forest floor and the parent flew off.

When the work was done, we were fairly beat. We were going to go swimming, but it seemed too hard to get going again once we came in the house and sat down with popcicles. Clancy and I fell asleep while the boys watched a movie. We woke up around 7pm. Maybe tomorrow I'll take the boys swimming.
I did the math, though. At $2 a bale (the going rate) our hay crop could have brought us $654. And the buyers would have probably cleaned off the field for us. We used to sell our hay this way. As it is now, I keep the hay for the sheep. I'm pretty sure that in any one year I've never even come close to seeing $650 from sheep sales; wool, meat, and live animals combined. In the past I've maintained that the sheep flock is not a hobby but an investment in our farming. Now that I've crunched the numbers, it's pretty clear I have a lot of work to do to make the sheep a viable venture. Or I should cut back to a couple of fiber pets and not work so hard. Lots and lots of things to think about.....More about this later. Supper is on the table.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Little farm girl

This is one of the photos I came across in my search yesterday. The cow was a purebred Brown Swiss (named Brownie-very original). Oh, how I loved my cow. I was so proud to own such a beautiful docile creature.

The idea was that I would be fully responsible for her. I would do the milking chores, and when her calf sold each year I would put the money into my savings account.

Turned out I wasn't so great at milking. I could do it, but I remember getting in trouble because I didn't milk out each quarter completely. Brownie was our sole source of milk and butter-so it was a big deal. Dad ended up doing most of the milking. Mom took care of the milk once it reached the house. And I did the small jobs in between, like carrying the pail to the house, shaking the butter jar and so on.

Brownie lived out her long life at our farm. We kept all of her female offspring. She contributed greatly to the distinct herd that Dad eventually called his "Little Deer Cows." I did get to put some money in my savings account when Brownie would produce a bull calf. Her first calf, Twister, was a bull. He was a wonderful brindle beef cross. But he was born out in a snow bank and had to be warmed up by our stove. He was a sweet pet, and so comical. I had the job of feeding him skim milk from a bucket after Mom used the separator to take the cream. I remember the day I figured out that in order for me to get the money I had heard about, Twister would be sold and eaten someday. I was more than unreasonable about it. Twister could just live at our farm forever I exclaimed through my sobs. No deal. Dad was not about to raise an ox just for me.

Livestock farming can have some harsh realities. I never made pals with another calf after Twister. I just knew my little heart would get broken again if I did. All these years later I have learned to invest my affection in the female livestock. I make sure my ewe lambs all become lovey. I try to ignore the rams. But oh how those little boys are the sweetest. Just like Twister, they are outgoing, and funny, and adorable. Aside from the fact that one shouldn't handle ram lambs due to behavior probems down the road, it would break my heart anyway when it's time for them to go.

Thursday, July 5, 2007


I've been thinking about "home" the past few days:
When I pull into my driveway and climb out of the car, there is the scent of chamomile. I don't know why, but at the farm I grew up on, and this one, there is a short stubby chamomile plant that grows where we park. Chamomile is the scent of getting home, or saying goodbye to a friend you have walked out to the car.

While I was peeling sticks the other day, I had this feeling it was going to rain in a bit. The sky was blue with lovely puffy clouds drifting by. I wondered what had triggered that premonition. Then it struck me...I could smell Balm of Gilead (Balsam Popple). They grow down by the lake east of the house. The wind had changed and brought their scent toward me. It did rain later. "Bombagillian" has always been the scent of approaching rain.

Today, while I drove past "the farm" (which means my parent's farm to all of us here) I stopped a few minutes to watch a neighbor with his claw-type machine rip the roof off of the old log cabin my parents bought in 1975. This is the house I grew up in. It was built before the turn of the century and was crafted out of hand-hewn cedar logs. The sill logs rested on large flat stones placed at each corner. Tamarack poles supported the upper story. A clay dug out cellar was accessible from outside behind the house and that is where we stored our potatoes and carrots all winter long. In some ways that house was frail; it took so much work just to keep it habitable. The last few years I lived there, it seemed like a sieve. Mice, birds, bats, and garter snakes made appearances when I least expected them. I didn't appreciate that type of living. On the other hand, that old house stood on top of that clay hill and weathered so many storms. It seemed so solid.

Today the house is coming down. First the roof; then some folks are going to take the logs apart and restore them. Someday that old house is going to be lived in and loved again. I dug through my box of childhood photos when I got home and could only find four with some glimpse of the house in the background. None of them really were "of the house." None of them really conveyed what it looked like. How could something that was the shelter of my life for thirty years somehow not have been really captured on film?

What do I remember about that house?
I remember the floor sloped downward because the cellar was under only half of the house. It was like the kitchen end was uphill to the livingroom end of the main room. The boards on the walls were rough sawn 14 inch boards from Rajala's Lumber Mill. Mom put a clear finish on them so they could be washable (sortof). Two of them were very dark compared to the others. Mom and Dad were two boards short when they enclosed the staircase, so Dad pulled a couple of weathered boards off the corral fence to finish up the house. I remember how the ceilings were only 7 feet high in the highest places. The doorways between rooms were much shorter still. We were a short statured family and never noticed. A few visitors had to bend down just to stand in our kitchen though. A highschool boyfriend stopped by once. I don't know what he was expecting, but he was not impressed. He exclaimed that there wasn't one single thing in that house that was square. Being naive, I didn't know what he meant. He sat on my parent's sofa and pointed out all the different trim and boards and walls and such that did not meet at square angles. (None of them did actually) I guess if you are raised in a crooked little house you will need an outsider to point out how ridiculous the structure is. Being young, I could not fathom how my house could bother him so much. Eventually I caught on. The house was different in every way a house could be different. It's not always comfortable to be near someone or something that is different-especially when they don't appologize for it-or even notice the fact.
I found a lot of childhood photos of the inside of the house in my search today. My sister and I look happy in them. We are laughing, celebrating birthdays and holidays, playing with kittens, doing homework... Since Mom and Dad decided to tear the place down we've talked quite a bit about our lives there. It's nice to have someone who remembers where the creaks in the floor were. We are pretty sure we were lucky to grow up in such and interesting old building. It was home. In a few more weeks, it will not exist at the farm anymore. In my heart and memory, that old house will always be the place I learned about what it was to "be home."

Monday, July 2, 2007


It rained last night. We needed it, things were getting dusty. Compared to last summer, though, this year is like a tropical rain forest. You won't find me complaining about rain unless my house gets flooded-and we built on piers.
The only thing I really don't appreciate about a delicious overnight thunderstorm is the swelter of heavy humidity the next day if it turns out to be a hot one. I wilt. I really do. My paternal grandmother couldn't tolerate humidity either and I swear I'm just like her.
As I mentioned yesterday, today I had a lot of outdoor work to do. Thank goodness for shade! And pop ice. I ate way too many, even though I think the food coloring is bad stuff.
Technically, I filled the order for aspen sticks. My house looks like a bamboo forest. But Clancy (my husband) found a nice grove that is peeling well so I'm going to keep working. I want to pick the best 50 out of maybe 80 to fill this order. The surplus is not inferior-it just doesn't match exactly the specs the client ordered. I'll have extra for folks that just want to order a few sticks with more character or diameter.
Today's photo is of the ewe flock. They were camped out under a tree, stomping off flies, feeling generally miserable in the heat. My sister took this picture last week during our heatwave, but today felt about the same as then. Selena got a new digital camera and I told her to take pictures of the farm for me. She wandered about for an hour and came back in the house to announce that the sheep were suspicious and wouldn't pose, and the chickens were just plain absent. Apparently if I want more flattering photos of my sheep I have to borrow the camera and take them myself. They won't give Selena anything other than "the glare." But maybe it was just the humidity.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Long Day

A fellow from Texas ordered 50+ peeled aspen sticks a while back. No problem. And all of a sudden it's the first of July. Aspen gets pretty hard to peel about now. It's hit and miss. Some sticks peel like a dream, others you chip away at and get 6 feet done in an hour. The past two days I've peeled sticks from sun up to sun down. And I am tired.

I think I'll be able to finish up by tomorrow. Hopefully one more full day will do the trick. As peeling goes-this has been a very hard job. It's just that time of year. And it's my own fault that I let time get away from me. But in some ways it beats easier jobs I've had. I get to sit outside in the shade under a tree, barefoot. The photo shows the view I face all day. I can see the trumpeter swans out on the lake...hear the riot of birds that live in the forest. Meg-my border collie pup-drops her toy at my feet for me to throw. The young chickens drift by, sure that the pile of peelings I'm sitting on are fruit based nutrition. Sorry chickies. They get mighty disappointed by the curls of bark. But everytime I shift positions they come running to see if I might have a treat.

I feel pretty good about this type of work: The aspen grows like quack grass around here. (in fact, if you observe how it grows, it is the Minnesota version of bamboo-more like grass than like tree-my opinion) Thinning out some of the aspen groves is something that needs to be done anyway. Or it can be harvested where it is crowding in on the driveway or the hay field. Since we are harvesting so close to the farm, we bring the whole young tree home instead of processing it out in the woods. All of the branches with leaves get fed to the sheep. They love this treat. The trunk itself is cut to lengths needed, then peeled. When all that is done, there is a huge pile of bark, some stripped branches in the sheep pens, and some short pieces of small diameter wood that had significant flaws. The bark and the branches go into the fire pit. Every once in a while we light it up and cook something. The larger pieces get piled for this winter's firewood. Every part of every tree we cut down gets used for something. We've even used the bark as chicken coop bedding before. It feels good when my financial endeavors are in harmony with nature to this degree.