We are back!

Finally! We are back out on pasture. It took until May 14th (appropriately Mother’s Day) but our shepherds got their acts together and let us out onto pasture full time. Yep, this is Brie (not the old grumpy guy) writing. We have been looking out the door and have seen a lot of green grass, but the shepherds had all sorts of excuses why we could not be out there.

First, it was that the pastures had not yet grown well enough. Then, the old guy finally got the water lines pressurized. That is always a pretty good sign that we are about to head out. Then grumpy started to hem and haw, something about the electric fence not working well enough to protect us. He spent two whole days wandering all over the place, checking the fence lines. Finally, he announced that he had found a short circuit and had fixed it. It was something about the insulation on the wires wearing out where they go under the machine shed. Any fool would know that that meant the entire shed was “wired”. Of course only a couple of folks would have been effected. The old shepherd, whenever he tried to open one of the steel doors would have gotten a jolt. The same would have happened to Chucky, the woodchuck, whenever he crawled under the siding, as he often does. In our humble sheep opinions, a good jolt would have done both of those guys some good! Sorry…I got sidetracked.

Finally the folks who run this place announced that we could head out. Once they opened the barn door there was no stopping us. 1st day on pasture in 2017 What a pleasure after eating baled hay since last November. Needless to say we enjoyed the warmth, the sunshine, the lake breezes and, most important, the green grass. The two shepherds hung around long enough that we even had to check up on them to see if they were okay. Dana took on that role perfectly. Dana After a time we figured that they needed a bit of love and attention. So some of us obliged. This is a picture of Willeta and the Nice Lady having a nice conversation. Gretchen and Willeta We humored the two people for a while. Finally they got the message that we had better things to do, i.e. grazing lush grass. With that I gotta go or I’ll miss out on my share of the pasture.

Respectfully submitted, Brie

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Running to Catch up…As Usual

Lots of things are going on at the farm and I am guilty of not getting around to writing about them. Hopefully I will get a bit caught up here. Perhaps shortly down the road, I will be able to add more. Spring has had a slow and staggered beginning. Yet finally we saw enough sunshine and felt enough warmth to believe that the weather had turned the corner. Many of the early migratory birds arrived on schedule. (In a few instances they were ahead of schedule.) One of the pleasures we have experienced regularly over the last few years has been in increase in numbers of Sandhill Cranes that have visited us. I can remember one of the first springs that occurred after we purchased the farm in 1983. I was exceedingly excited to see a single crane in the middle of what is now our main hay field. I had never before seen one. I grabbed my camera and added a telephoto lens and spent an hour slowly sneaking up on the bird. Much of the approach was done crawling across the field. The pictorial results were poor: a bird far off and very difficult to see. It was a number of years before I saw another crane on the property. Now, over the last few years the Sandhills arrive early in April and daily spend lots of time on the farm, often in small groups, bugling their presence. This year the numbers have been very pleasing. Toward the first of May we were greeted by a flock of at least 25 cranes in the middle of the hay field. They did not give me enough time to get good photos, but they provide a magnificent show, especially when they all decided to take flight. Our flock is nothing to compare to what can be seen along the Platte River, but they still give us an amazing  thrill!Sandhill Cranes

Closer to the house our Magnolia bush has been growing well since we planted it a few years ago. This year it performed a beautiful welcoming to spring. Beneath it grow an early blooming variety of tulip. This year they timed their blooming to perfectly coincide. Magnolia and TulipsSadly, after two glorious days of blossoms, we were hit by two nights of late frosts. It was cold enough to “burn” most of the Magnolia blossoms. Nevertheless, from a distance the bush/tree remained gorgeous. Now, over two weeks later, we have a lovely carpet of white blossom petals below the bush. We are hopeful that the hard freeze did not do significant damage to the cherry and apple blossoms in the county. We will have to wait to see if the fruit crop was harmed.

Going into late May (with the exception of the Ashes) almost all of the native deciduous trees have budded out and soon will have a full leaf cover. Pastures are growing and grazing sheep will soon be a regular routine.

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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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