Fleeces…Yes, Spring…?

Oh how we have struggled trying to cope with a slow, questionable spring! Since shearing it has been cool (often cold) and damp. We have had rain, snow, some ice, lots of wind and occasional sunny days. Despite the calendar revealing that we have reached spring, it has been difficult to recognize the season.

We sheared the flock on the first weekend in March. Despite getting the sheep back into clean jackets within a day of being sheared, it soon became evident that most of the flock was uncomfortable due to the damp, cool temperatures. This was despite the barn being closed up to minimize drafts and hopefully save some heat. Putting more fuel into the engines, (i.e. upping the hay and grain ration) did seem to help, but not much. The rams were especially uncomfortable alone in their palace (otherwise known as the barn addition). We decided to set up a pen for them in the shearing area of the main barn where it would be a bit warmer. The problem with such a move is that it also places the rams within a few feet of the ewes, who were just as excited to see the boys due to the proximity. In addition, I closed off the addition by placing plastic across the interior door and window. Finally things began to warm up; the sheep acted more comfortable, and they finally started to put on some weight again. Only yesterday did it finally warm up enough that I took down the plastic. Much to the ram’s displeasure they moved back into their quarters this morning.

There are some subtle signs of spring. Grasses are turning green (albeit slowly). The spring migratory birds are on the move. The first Bluebirds showed up on March 28th. Turkey Vultures returned on the 31st. Our winter population of Juncos has been growing, which is a sure sign they are heading north. Within a few days they may all disappear. They are being replaced by other sparrow species. One of our favorites of the early sparrows is the Fox Sparrows. For a week now three of them have been busy cultivating the duff under the cedar trees outside our studio window. Fox Sparrow

The two of us have been finishing off the last of our fiber projects that dated back to late fall, when we abandoned the gallery for the warmth of the studio in the house. I just finished the last blanket that I will weave in the studio this spring. It is to be the last of this series. Last WinterWeaving Once we return to the gallery in a month or so, I will be weaving a new pattern. Also next fall will mark a new pattern on the loom in the studio. Gretchen is also putting the finishing touches on a set of pillows that she recently wove.

We know there are some of you who are wondering when our fleeces will be placed up for sale. The sale will occur this month. We are just finalizing the plans and finishing the last of the final skirtings. Our customers from the last couple of years will receive an email soon regarding the sale, as will anyone who signed up over the last 12 months to be on out mailing list. If you are not on our list and wish to be notified, contact us immediately, using our Fleece Contact Form.

Lastly, the vegetable garden has been started. The clock is ticking on warming up the soil in the garden. While we wait, some of the plants have been started indoors. On the list, as always, are artichokes, at least 6 types of tomatoes,  7 varieties of peppers and eggplant. In addition, the dyer’s garden has a start with an especially large planting of marigolds already germinating. Tomatoes for the futureIt is hard to believe but, if all goes well these little dandies will be producing a ton of tomatoes by late July!

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Sheared…One More Time

Shearing was completed a couple of days ago. It has just taken us (the shearing crew and the flock) a couple of days to catch our collective breaths. We were lucky this year to have relatively warm weather for both of our shearing days and for the next few days after. No one was cold during or after shearing. Only now, a week after the first day of shearing, has the weather again turned cold. The few warmer days after shearing gave the flock the chance to adjust to life with shorter fleeces. Even though the temperature has dropped to 10°F over the last two nights we have kept the barn closed up and much warmer than outside. Shearing almost overOnce we began shearing I was too busy to take many photos. Only here, after most of the flock was sheared did I manage a few images. Every year it seems like the same ewes manage to avoid shearing until it is almost done. This year was no exception. That is Velveeta on the right, holding out to the very end. Shearing - Zahra and friendsOne the other hand, Zahra, on the left, did not wait around. She has been sheared and already finished a good meal before coming over to visit Stacey, still escaping the shearing crew.

Overall the sheep were very cooperative for us and as a result the shearing went well for all. Here our shearer, Dylan, is just about finished with Yo Yo Baa, a ewe who always produces a prodigious amount of wool. Yo Yo Baa Every once in a while someone has to make a political statement. Yuliya never seems to want to give up. This year she and Dylan played a waiting game to see who would relax first. Dylan and TallulahEveryone was sheared by Sunday evening. Everyone is sheared On Tuesday we managed to give each of the sheep their Clostridial Disease and Tetanus booster shots along with getting everyone fitted with clean jackets (which will also help with a bit of warmth). Before then, the fleeces were bagged and moved up into the hay mow, waiting for Gretchen and me to begin moving them into the house for their final skirting. In fact, as I write, Gretchen is busy in the basement working on the third set of seven fleeces (our daily maximum). So far we are happy with the fleeces. Nutritionally we seemed to feed the sheep well throughout the year and it is reflected in both their fleeces and their body condition. With any luck we should have the fleeces ready for sale by early to mid April.

Helen and Alfred

Helen and Alfred, relaxing after shearing

Even with lots to do, during and after shearing, there still has to be time to make sure that we thank everyone responsible for this beautiful product. So we thank our shearer, Dylan, our crew, MJ, Helen and Russ, and most importantly our flock. In their own special way the sheep repay us with their love and kindness.

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Almost Ready for Shearing

A crazy winter seems to be roaring past us. It has been very cold and icy. It has also been very warm and sunny. Life up in the house has been alternately quiet and busy. Early on, we managed to complete a fairly good output of fiber projects, both weaving and knitting. A sampling of scarves: Scarves Two of four blankets (so far… perhaps more to come):Blanket

Blanket_2 Dec 2016

All of the fiber activities came to a sudden pause in February. While cold, snowy days somehow do not seem appropriate for air conditioning up grades, it seems that it is the perfect time to schedule such work. We are now finished with the installation of central air conditioning. (It is our somewhat desperate response to the long hot and humid weather of last summer!) The crew that did the work were very considerate and efficient, but nonetheless the level of dust that was left after the job was finished meant that we still had lots of work to get things back to what we considered habitable conditions. We scheduled the work with the understanding that it had to be completed before we reached shearing. The basement is the central fleece processing area for us, and most of the major construction was in the basement. We are just about ready to start working on our fleeces. Only one event stands in the way, i.e. shearing.

Like last year we opted to shear a week or so later than we used to. This decision is based largely upon the fact that we are no longer lambing. Were we still lambing, the fleeces would have had to be removed at least a couple of weeks ago. Now, by shearing later, we can grant both the sheep and shepherds a little bit more comfort temperature wise. The last week we have spent considerable time and energy getting the flock and the barn ready for shearing. Hooves have been trimmed where needed. The lower part of the barn, (the area where we shear), has been fenced off and cleaned out. Some of the flock are more in need of shearing than others. Wool production varies with families and age. There are a number of sheep who still have pretty good forward vision. There are other who should be quite happy with a clean face. Cherie definitely needs a trim. Cherie Willeta is also in a similar situation, in addition to which her jacket is exceeding full of wool.Willeta On the other hand, Dana can still see clearly straight ahead. If facial grimaces are any indication, she may be looking toward shearing with mixed emotions. Dana Regardless of emotions, shearing will be taking place in the coming week. With any luck we will then have our fleeces ready for sale by early to mid April. Stay tuned!

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Still Here…On Pasture

Special Note from the Flock’s Council of Elders: As a reader of The Ewe Turn, you may have noticed recently that the blog was not available for a few days. Hopefully, the problems have been corrected. Unfortunately, Brie’s last post from November 6th was lost in the process of restoration. We have managed to revive it and it is now posted again below. Brie is in no way at fault and we apologize to her that this occurred.


I have been trying mightily to post something to the blog. But we never seem to spend enough time in the barn that we can break into the grumpy shepherd’s computer. As you may have guessed, this is Brie reporting, after much too long of an absence.

I had good intentions in October. We had to deal with just the old shepherd. The nice lady was gone for two weeks. She took a vacation with her good friend (the one who Velveeta is always chummy with when she visits). They drove through Canada to Rhinebeck, New York where they attended the New York Sheep and Wool Festival. (That shows they have good taste!) Then they returned again via Toronto, Canada where they had a grand old time (or so they say!) With the nice lady gone we figured it would be a snap to sneak into the computer. The trouble was that we never had a day off in the barn! The old guy kept us out on pasture all that time every day. Even after the nice lady returned we still have spent nearly all of our waking hours on pasture. No, they were not punishing us. It is just that the weather has been so unseasonably warm.

None of us can think of a year when the entire flock has still been able to be out grazing this long. I asked Odetta and she does not remember this ever happening before. She is the oldest member of the flock and she has been here since 2003. Even when they used to let us out in small groups with the rams to breed, it has never been this late, even when it was just a few of us. It is not because the grumpy old shepherd has turned nice or soft. It is because of the weather!

So here we are a couple of weeks ago, in the pasture next next to the house, with all of the trees in beautiful fall color. This is the place they call the “Orchard Pasture”. (Why they call it that, I don’t know!) sheep in the "orchard" pastureWe took these pictures at the time hoping to share them with our readers. I am sorry it took so long. Usually by the time these pictures were taken, the trees would have lost their leaves. We even got to see the nice birch tree next to where the shepherds spend most of their time. birch in late autumnAt the time we were also grazing near the road. Needless to say we did stop a lot of traffic, since there were many tourists out looking at the fall colors. I am guessing that our pictures showed up all over the place on social media sites like Facebook. After all we are all pretty cute, if I may say  so myself. (That’s my good buddy, Winona, in the foreground.) sheep next to the road

It’s now November. We finished grazing the “Orchard” some time ago. We have worked our way through the pasture east of the barn of the barn, next to the road. (That’s the “Road Pasture”…original name what?!) Now we are grazing Pasture #1. We should finish it up today (November 5th). This is what it looked like a couple of weeks ago. maples in OctoberThis is before we were able to graze it, so there was still lots there to eat. Now we are working our way south. At this rate soon we will be in Pasture #2. It is just around the corner, to the left, in the picture below. maples in pasture #1 Sadly, almost all of the leaves have now fallen off the trees and therefore it is not nearly as pretty. Just to bring everything up to date, here is what it is like this afternoon at the south end of #1. last day in #1 We keep waiting for the temperatures to turn cold enough that the grass will freeze and stop growing. When that happens the water lines will also freeze up. It that does not occur pretty soon we will not have much pasture left to graze anyway, since the grass is not growing much now. If that happens it will mean that meals will have to start in the barn and that winter is on its way. Maybe by then I will at least be able to get back to you sooner. Thank you for your time. Respectfully submitted,


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Gretchen is Dyeing…Again

It is now September and in certain ways we seem to have turned the corner and entered the beginnings of fall. Bird and butterfly migrations have begun. In other ways we seemed to be stuck in summer. It remains warm (often hot) and humid (often rainy). Getting a late cutting of hay to dry is an extreme challenge, especially with the shorter day length.

Our last brood of Barn Swallows left their nest on September 3rd. Within two days the family had left the barn. The result is a strange quiet that now permeates the barn. We truly miss them and it has only been a few days since their departure.

We have had other unexpected visitors. In the early hours of September 4th, right behind the barn, I was met by a White-tailed doe nursing a very young fawn. Based upon the fawn’s size, it could not have been more than a month old. I would normally expect to see a fawn that young in late May to early June. The little babe is going to have a potentially rough fall and winter!

Over the last couple of days a single Least Sandpiper has taken up residence in and around the very large puddle that is currently part of the manure storage. sandpiper The food supply of insects is good and the sandpiper has seemed quite content. My guess is that it is beginning its southerly migration and has just stopped by for a brief visit. Nevertheless, it is still there this morning, in the midst of a downpour!

Our exciting news in August was the arrival of a new, large batch of our white yarn from Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill. We had literally run out of white yarn earlier this summer, which had put off any chance of doing any natural dyeing. Beginning in late August Gretchen has been busy taking advantage of any dry day to dye as much yarn as possible. The first, early batches were primarily yellows and oranges. We used up our large collection of onion skins for the first batch of dyes. That was followed by intense yellows and oranges from a new (to our garden) variety of Cosmos flower. yellow cosmos Next up was a batch of dye from another new flower to our garden, Dyers Coreopsis.  dyers coreopis Here is a sample of the results. From left to right are first and second dye batches from onions skins, yellow Cosmos and Dyers Coreopsis. The results are stunning, especially up against the red wall of the gallery. 3 yellows

The Goldenrod is now in full bloom in our fields. The blossoms produce a beautiful yellow dye. Here Gretchen is ready to insert a skein of white wool into the Goldenrod dye pot. white yarn into dye pot A few minutes later, out comes the resulting yellow yarn. goldenrod dyed yarn

During the Labor Day weekend, we were honored to have a group from the Art Institute of Chicago join us for a dyeing retreat. The four are the staff of the Department of Textiles. They came specifically to observe our overall operation and to be a part of an Indigo dyeing weekend. Of course they got to visit the flock on pasture. Everyone (humans and sheep) was so pleased with the visit that we did it again a second day!

The first day was spent dyeing white and grays in the indigo dye bath. Later in the afternoon, some of the previously dyed yellow were over-dyed in the indigo. Here is a sample of some of the results from the first day.blues and greens Everyone really got into the process. On the second day a number of the yellow yarns were dyed for varying lengths of time in the indigo, with some wonderful greens resulting.green dyeing

yellow into the pot


By late morning of the third day the indigo bath was nearly exhausted and it struggled to produce the intense results of the previous two days. On the third day we dyed yarn that had been previously been dyed red or pink using Cochineal. The results were, as planned, purple and violet.  purplesThe weekend was a very intense experience, but we all had a wonderful time, each of us learning a lot from the others. So here we all are assembled (minus the shepherd/photographer) when the dye pot was exhausted. The Art Institute of Chicago in front of Whitefish Bay Farm Gallery (sorry, no lions are guarding the entrance). The dyers were far from exhausted. Thanks to all! art institute group

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