Friday, November 30, 2007

Greta's Example

Lately I've been too busy. Instead of planning my day, I feel like I'm simply reacting to the bombardment of a frantic schedule. I need to slow down, prioritize, and pace myself.
I could learn a thing or two from Greta.
Greta eats her kibble leisurely. She sleeps soundly. In fact, right now, after a long night of resting on the rug, she is completely conked out. That potty break out in the -10 degree weather this morning must have been exhausting.
Actually, I think Greta knows that by 9am she will be tossed outside to guard the farm until noon. There is no doubt in her mind that master will be putting her to work, so she might as well relax.
But there might lie the secret wisdom I have been seeking...Greta has one master. One command to fulfill. One obey her commands. Beyond that, she has no worry.
How many masters do I have? My family, my job, my animals, my dreams, my physical body, my social obligations, my bills, my housekeeping...I can't serve them all. It is Biblical directive to have but one Master.
Today, I will take a cue from my serene friend, Greta. I will try to focus on my one and only Master. I will trust Him to guide my day, to help me overcome obstacles, and to do my best. If I attend to His command, I will have peace. I will find rest in Him.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Breeding Season Winding Down

I couldn't resist posting this awful photo of Bombarde.
Rams are so ugly when they sniff the perfumed air of breeding season. And yet they think they are so sexy. Whatever!
It seems as though all the ewes are bred by their respective rams, except for Bramble Anna Belle. There is the possibility that she was bred the very first day I introduced Bombarde. But I never noticed any evidence of such, so I think she might be ready to cycle soon. I am really looking forward the fleece on her lambs next year. I intend to retain them unless a major fault shows up. Yes, I am hoping she gives me twins.
I was fortunate to witness all the other breedings this fall. Even so, this year I've decided to use a clean up ram for the first time. Bombarde gets the honors of that job.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bert and Ernie

About this time of year, when I was 6 or 7 years old, I won a coloring contest at our local Pamida store. The giant stocking that I was presented with was stuffed with cheap but fabulous prizes. Surprisingly, some of those toys lasted years and years. The pink bouncy ball had nine lives.
When I recently came across this photo of that occasion, I couldn't help but remember the private joke Selena and I shared as children. It is so evident in this picture of us: I was Bert and she was Ernie from PBS. Our childhood days played out like one long, extended episode of the B & E apartment segments on Sesame Street.
Can you see it? I was long-faced, yellow, and boring. Selena was round-faced, red, and full of mischief.
The day this photo was taken, I was modestly glad that I had won the contest. As a rule, I practiced coloring inside the lines for hours on end each week. My crayon box was my life. I knew I wasn't doing my best if the crayon strayed even into the blackness of the line, because if you tipped the picture in the light, the waxy mark was obvious against the outline. When my mom told me to stand against the bulletin board in the store, I felt it was my duty to smile, but all the fuss made me feel self-conscious.
Notice Selena: Could her smile be any bigger? Of course she was happy for me, but she admits to being happy for herself because she knew Mom and Dad would make me share my new stuff. I don't even think she felt guilty about that. Just happy. "Life is FUN, Bert! Hee Hee Hee."
Just like Ernie, Selena never wasted time worrying if someone liked her or not. Her extroverted, social butterfly, little self barged through life with zest and a loving heart. One of her major goals was to secure large amounts of time for having fun and enjoying herself. In this pursuit, I was her faithful Bert. Gullible sounds more poetic, though...
Once, during our younger years, Selena called up the staircase that Mom said the dishes had to get done. I grumbled downstairs and proceeded to wash away. When I had almost finished, Mom came in from weeding the garden and was taken by surprise. "What are you doing?" she asked. "You told me to do the dishes," I replied. Selena breezed though the room and casually dropped the hint that Mom had only told her the dishes had to get done. Selena had been outside reading Charlotte's Web or something. Apparently, it was all very funny.
Thankfully, one of Selena's other priorities was teaching her older sister (me) how to laugh. I was somber by nature, but Selena managed to coax some humor out of me anyway. An example of her commitment to my lightness of heart was "The Collection!": When I least expected it, she would take a snapshot of me looking my worst. She started an album, and hid it well so I couldn't destroy it. When I was feeling really bummed about life, she'd bring it out and point to one photo after another. She would laugh so hard at how ridiculous I looked and at the story behind it that eventually I would end up laughing too. She still treasures those obnoxious, compromising photos and adds to her "Collection" from time to time. If I had been an optimistic person, I might have held out hope of her outgrowing her pranks. Thank goodness I was a pessimist, because I would have been disappointed anyway.
So now, almost 30 years later, Selena is planning trips to exotic places and singing with the Beastie Boys as she drives to work. I am trying to get some rest without people bothering me, and talking of nothing besides my sheep. But as sisters, I believe we are more than the sum of "her plus me." What would I do if she didn't pester me into being silly? How would she get by if I didn't bring unsolicited, factual information to her attention?
I don't mind being Bert, as long as Ernie is around.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Holiday Gift Idea

My mom and dad make these Oriole Feeders using the waste end-cuts of cedar boards my husband saws at Boston Lake Mill.
They can hold oranges and grape jelly in the spring/summer and suet and bird seed in the fall/winter.
I think they are a great gift idea for folks who love birds and care about the environment. You also feel good about supporting a Minnesota small family business that values sustainability in the forest industry. Each feeder is a genuine True North Woods branded product.
The feeders can be shipped to you, or they can be shipped directly to the ones you wish to give a present to: making holiday giving easy. All the details are on my parents' website: Wille Lumber and Timber Inc.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Judging from the mussed look of her, I'd say Windswept Northwind got bred today. This photo of her was taken on Monday though.
It may sound kind of weird, but we shepherds have to keep an eye out for these types of details. It's very handy to know the expected due date for each ewe. Special care can be made during the last week of pregnancy if one knows when the last week of pregnancy is. When I have to be away from the farm for more than a couple of hours during lambing season, I can put the ewe(s) closest to delivery in a jug before I leave so I know that if they come in the lambs will be protected from the elements. Or I'll put the close ewes in the barn at night just in case.
This year Northwind is being bred to fawn Katmoget, Bombarde, and I hope she gives me a fawn Kat ewe lamb or a musket ewe lamb. I won't be able to get those colors and patterns from any other ewe this year. Of course, I would also be pleased with a black Kat ewe or a grey ewe, but there is the chance that Anna Belle could give me those variations.
Notice I haven't mentioned a ram lamb of any color yet? I'm hoping to not get ram lambs from Northwind. I intend to sell her next year and I would like one more ewe lamb from her to keep in the flock, besides Rai Min. Those are my preferences. Only time will tell if I'll get what I hope for.
Northwind has the distinct fame at Boston Lake Farm for being the most protective dam. Fierce, shall we say? Yes, fierce. Fortunately, she is an excellent mother that does not need intervention. This shepherd doesn't have to crawl into her jug too often.
Until I separated Rai Min for breeding season, Northwind was still allowing her daughter to nurse, which probably explains why Rai Min is such a chunk. Northwind also throws lambs that are better than herself, when bred to a good ram. I like that about a ewe. So I am really looking forward to what this gal can give me next spring...right around April 20th I think.

Oh, Brother

Megan spent her whole first summer herding chickens. After they went to the coop, she started fixating on the sheep. Good.
Behold, a border collie completely focused on her flock. Wrong flock.
Megan would rather stare at the chicks than get pets and love. If they move she almost comes unglued because she wants to put them back into a chicky ball. I think Megan will be getting a lot of outdoor exercise until I can find a better place to put the chick box.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Harsh Reality

Two chicks have been lost. I found one of the remaining 4 outside of the cage. Clancy and I suspect the missing chicks wiggled out of the cage and were consumed by the other chickens. Is that possible? I know chickens will eat mice. It's the only explanation we can think of...unless an ermine snatched them...
We brought the last four chicks inside. Hopefully they will be safer in the house. We removed the cage from the coop. The hen will just have to adjust to the flock again because I really do draw the line at having full grown chickens in my house.
Clancy also threw the rest of the eggs away. They seemed a bit heavy. A seventh one was hatching yesterday and it never made it. The hen was also so busy with the chicks that she seemed to forget about the unhatched eggs.
I feel so bad that two chicks were lost in such a short time. I wish we had brought them in last night. But then last night there didn't seem to be a reason to separate them from their momma. Life is just not always smooth and free of loss. Even though I wish it could be.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

So far 6 chicks have hatched. Some have feather feet like the hen. Some are clean legged like the rooster. All are bantam-sized. It's so cheerful to hear them peeping. They vigorously scratch at the crumbles and sip at the waterer. Then they scramble back to mommy and disappear under her wide body. Such tiny bits of fluff with so much life!
We Erickson's wish you a very blessed Thanksgiving Day!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Peeping Snowflakes

The boys have been anxious about the nest the broody hen is sitting on. I was about to loose hope for the eggs too. The mama has been faithful to the nest. But what if the eggs were damaged by cold before we transfered the nest to the coop?
Well, Clancy did chicken chores this morning after the boys were off to school. He came in to tell me he heard peeping in the coop. I could hardly believe it. When we lifted up the hen, there were four fuzzy little chickies and nine eggs in the nest. Tonight, there was another chick, not yet dry from it's hatching.
These chicks are the tiniest little miracles. Just beyond their mother's protective wings, winter is leaning heavily against the chicken coop. Low clouds sweep down with chill and frost. Inside the coop, fluffy chicky snowflakes are piling up.

Just in Time

Early this morning, I moved the electronet to some clean ground by the barn and added my new ram, SheltrgPines Bombarde, to the pen. Anna Belle and Northwind were delighted to meet him.
Northwind didn't even notice that I had just removed her eweling, Rai Min, to a barn stall. Rai Min noticed, though. She has not stopped her frantic crying yet. I have a theory that the trauma of separating a lamb from it's mother is a fixed measure. It doesn't seem to matter whether you wean early or delay the separation until adulthood. The distress the daughter experiences will be the same. Rai Min is crying in her pen, only able to see other sheep through the slats of her stall wall. Sian and Delyth, her older half sisters, are crying from their breeding pen. This is also the first time they have ever been separated from their mothers, and they are behaving like babies.
The maiden ewes around here might not be happy, but the shepherd is thrilled. I have been interested in Bombarde since Becky first brought him to Minnesota. Since then I have had the chance to see his first lamb crop at River Oaks and I was very impressed. A huge Thank You to you Becky, for bringing Bombarde all the way up to Grand Rapids. I am so excited to have him in my flock. He improves tails and hind quarters. He is F2 Roban Dillon. And he is also fully resistant to scrapie-RR/AA.
There are some other reasons that I like him too: Bombarde carries the pattern for Katmoget and Grey. So all of his lambs will be one or the other, unless covered up by a white pattern gene. Since I prefer the heathered look and the ability to dye the lighter fleeces, I'm looking forward to my spring lamb crop from him. He's also moorit based, so one of these days I might get a musket ewe lamb. After three years, I still don't own a moorit based ewe. I really would like that to change without having to buy one.
Bombarde also has the type of fleece I like to spin: soft and crimpy. It is a bit short but I actually like that. His River Oaks lambs were unbelievably soft and I'm hoping he contributes as well here at my farm as he did there. Bombarde is also not a hulk of a ram. He has masculine features, but he is smaller and finer boned than any of the other rams I have owned. Up to now, Clancy has been doing most of the ram handling. Small size was one of the Shetland traits that convinced me to choose this breed. I want my sheep to be small enough for me to handle. In the future I will try to use rams about Bombarde's size. Bombarde may also carry a polled gene. I've paired him up with Anna Belle in hopes of getting a ramling that might answer a few questions about both parents concerning their polled possibilities.
So now all of my breeding pens are together...just in time to let me focus on Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Where Wishes are Born

Two of three breeding groups are together as of this evening.
Unicorn, a yearling ram that has not been used to my knowledge, met Boston Lake Sian and Delyth for the first time. I hate to say it, but he thought he was pretty hot stuff and those girls were having none of it. He chased them around and around the pen. The two maiden ewes were concerned only with fact that their mothers were not there to protect them from the big white creep. After 10 minutes they were still anxiously baa-ing at the gate to go back to the ewe flock. Unicorn was panting with his tongue hanging out. He couldn't understand why the girls didn't fall in love with him at first sight. He fell in love with them at first sight!
Over in the other breeding pen, the scene was quite different. Old Allister was the quintessential gentleman toward experienced ewes, Rachel and Dolce. The pace was slow and courtly, and infinitely more effective. Neither of the girls were running away. (I'm thinking back to the first time I put Rachel in with a ramling. She was thoroughly disgusted with her situation and with me.)
Anna Belle, Northwind, and eweling Rai Min are still in the electronet by the barn. At the last minute, I decided to jump at the chance to buy a ram I've admired for a while. Hopefully, I'll be able to bring him home on Monday. He'll go in with these two ewes, while Rai Min will get pulled into the largest barn stall to wait out the breeding season.
Not only did the breeding groups get assembled today, but Clancy also trimmed the girls' hooves and gave them BoSe shots. I usually say "Clancy and I", but truthfully, I run the gates and doors and tell Clancy what to do. He does the hard stuff.
It felt good to get so much done. I have to keep my eyes open for breeding dates, and reintroduce the rams after breeding season, but most of the hard work is over. April 12 is the first possible lambing date. I'm hesitant to count my lambs before they hatch, but if things go well, next Spring will be the largest lambing I've ever had.
All winter long I'll be dreaming of the lambs I want: Hopefully Rachel will give me a blue-grey eweling. I hope Anna Belle passes on her incredible silky fine fleece. I would love to get a modified lamb from Dolce and Allister-technically a 50/50 chance. Northwind could give me a katmoget with a tiny tail. Please let Unicorn sire lambs that inherit his fleece.
Wish, wish, wish... That is what makes it so exciting to have more than one ewe lambing next spring-the chances are greater that some of my wishes will come true.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Clancy and I did some flock maintenance Sunday afternoon. We moved the ewes to the barn and reduced their electronet pen to one roll. The barn makes catching sheep a whole lot easier.
We also moved the rams into the two sturdy round pens. Each one got his hooves trimmed and his condition evaluated. We still have to trim the girls. That will happen next time Clancy and I have some daylight to spare.
This season is presenting some tough choices:
Mid October, on the advise of a consultant, I began force feeding a mineral mix to my flock. Forage tests have shown that my pastures contain less than half of the recommended mineral doses sheep are supposed to consume. Each lambing season was getting a bit more odd. And my first home-raised Shetland X Icelandic ewe actually had a weak lamb last spring at a different farm. (She was sold just a few months prior to lambing.) We suspect Selenium deficiency. I'm not a fan of force feeding any type of salt mixture. But I have noticed a large spike in water consumption. So I suspect my sheep were not eating much of their mineral free choice. So far I cannot see any negative affect from this change.
Our vet also recommended giving a BoSe shot this fall and then again next spring just after lambing. The bottle says not to administer the shot during pregnancy, so we need to give those shots very soon. I'm leery of giving these shots too. However, I've reassured myself that the shots might buy me some time to get soils amended, to get a mineral mix designed just for my farm, and to avoid a nightmare next lambing season.
I did not de-worm with commercial product this fall either. To make sure the sheep consume the salt I mix it with molasses, corn, and crushed alfalfa cubes. When I started this in October, I decided to add a portion of de as well, since the sheep had been without it all summer. One ewe expelled a few small worms. Everyone else looks good. Eyelids are pink. The flock was aggressively rotated on new pastures this summer. I will continue the de and keep my eyes open for any warning signs of worm load.
I took a good hard look at my rams yesterday too. Unicorn (the white ram shown above) will be used for the first time this season. His place here is secure. I won't part with him until I see some of his grown lambs.
Old Allister is quite bony. I've been feeding him supplements, he's been on good pasture all summer, and he is second in command to Uni. Because he was new to the farm this year, he was de-wormed not too long ago. For all that, and compared to the rest of the flock, he's not as stout as he should be. I am actually beginning to worry that this old boy is not going to have the easiest time of it over the winter. Then again, maybe he is one of those scrappy old gents that do better than one expects. Because I'm really wrestling with his condition issues, I have decided to use him on every ewe that he is not related to. That way, if I feel he needs to be put down when it gets cold, I will have captured his crimpy, dense, uniform fleece in my flock. Even if this is his last breeding season, he should be happy with so many girls in his pen.
Kavan was thoroughly examined on his way to the new pen. He has iset in his fleece now. But it is very uniform iset, if that makes sense. He still has a gorgeous, even, dense, crimpy fleece. And he is still a burly framed boy. Even his horn has begun to grow back-as if we has simply cut it off at skull level. But Kavan threw a ram lamb last spring that has just a slight under bite. So I checked Kavan's mouth, and sure enough, he has a slight under bite as well. I've seen worse. But considering Allister (Kavan's sire) has a perfect bite and no iset fibers, and that the two have almost identical structure, I have decided to put Kavan in the freezer. A very hard choice. His temperament is so good that it just breaks my heart. But I have three of his daughters, and they did not inherit his fault. So his contribution will be preserved.
Last, and Least, is little runty Tormey-the softest lamb I've ever produced. His fiber is just like a cloud. He's a darling little pest. He does have that slight under bite though, so I won't register him. We are hoping he will be worth butchering by next spring. This winter he can act as a companion to one of the big rams.
Breeding groups didn't really solidify in my mind until I had that good look at the rams on Sunday. I'm certain now how I will sort the girls-mostly: Allister will have Anna Belle, Rachel, Dolce, and Northwind. Unicorn will have Sian and Delyth. Tormey and his twin sister, Rai Min, will spend a couple of weeks in two separate areas of the barn. When I throw breeding groups together is any body's guess. I'd like to wait until December 1 for May lambs. But I want to get my electronet out of the ground early this year, so I might put them together sooner. One more choice to make.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Farewell Freedom

The new chicken coop requires a few more minor repairs before it is completely winterized: A board near the base needs to be nailed back on. Grandpa's old nesting boxes will have to get hung on the back wall. The two lambing jug gates should get removed and a real roost should get installed in the corner. But for now, all chickens are accounted for and living in the coop.
The chickens are not that happy about it. They seem fairly bewildered by their new confinement. Since May they have had the run of the farm. They roosted anywhere they pleased (always somewhere I didn't want them to.) They laid their eggs in places only the dogs could find. And they made sure the path from the parking spot to the back door was thoroughly pooped upon.
Yesterday brought great excitement for us on the chicken front: For quite a while, two of our hens, (a barred and a buff Brahma) have been roosting in some secret place. Then a few days ago, the Brahma disappeared altogether. We were so disappointed to loose her just when we finally had a coop for more protection. I was heartbroken because buff Brahma bantams are my absolute favorite type of chicken.
Yesterday morning she turned up to scratch with the rest of the flock. A while later, our youngest son called us outside because he had found something special-the Brahma sitting on 13 eggs in a little nest near the edge of the forest. We hadn't lost her at all, she had just gone broody. And our son had watched her carefully until she returned to her nest. With much care, we transferred her and her eggs to a wire rabbit cage that we placed in the new coop. We are really hoping at least some of the tiny eggs hatch out. This little hen has been roosting elsewhere for so long it is possible.
Last night we abducted the rooster and his three faithful hens from their roost just outside our dining room window. (They literally watched us eat our supper every night.) Our plan was to get all the chickens in the coop and then keep them in there. The chicken-napping was successful and we had 5 of the 6 fowl contained. We had searched long and hard for the last barred hen but couldn't find her.
As usual, our kids knew all about her hiding spot. Apparently she roosted in their favorite climbing tree-a cedar in the old windbreak. Sure enough, Clancy and I found her perched clear out at the end of a low limb-perfectly camouflaged. We had walked under her many times and would never have found her if the boys hadn't tattled on her.
So by 7 pm last night, all of our chickens were safely tucked into the coop. And there they shall stay until we get a fence built to enclose the tiny building. No more wild and free chickens until next summer. We were rewarded this morning with our first fresh egg of the year. Hopefully more will follow.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

"Chasing Blue Demons"

Clancy had another small show open last night in Bemidji at the Wild Hare Bistro. It will hang through the end of November.
After the reception, where we indulged ourselves with fabulous food created by the Wild Hare (love you guys!) we enjoyed another destination on the First Friday Art Walk: The Bemidji Community Arts Center.
Three incredible women artists are showing at the BCAC. The entire show, in three separate galleries, was so powerful and moving that I don't have the words to express how I felt. Paula Swenson, Susan Kedzie-Webb, and Bridget Riversmith created works that are worth seeing. SO worth seeing. I intend to visit a few more times to soak it all up before it is gone. I encourage others to take time to view this beautiful show, too.