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.

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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,

Brie

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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

greens

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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Summer Heat and Moisture

Summer is hanging on tendentiously at the farm. Some of the earlier days were just too hot and humid to risk field work. We managed to find pastures for the sheep in which they could either find shade and/or cooling breezes. For a time, we ran out of rain, to the point that pastures and lawns were drying up and gardens finally required extensive sprinkling. Toward the later part of August the rains returned (often with a vengeance). Nonetheless the gardens were again happy!

Kitchen Flowers The flowers below the kitchen window have thrived. It is one of the first times that the Phlox, Cone-flowers and Black-eyed Susans all managed to begin blooming together. We also will have an impressive Goldenrod show in their midst (the tall, green plant just below the window). It is a volunteer that fell in love with the location.

The vegetables have also thrived. We are already harvesting and eating artichokes (about a month earlier than normal). The melon patch is also coming along nicely and starting to produce super tasty cantaloupes and honeydews. We planted a couple of extra tomatoes than we normally grow. It is a total of seven varieties a couple of which are new for us. The plants are all huge; with the help of cages, they are all close to five feet tall. For a time I feared that we would get little or no fruit from them. Nothing to worry about, we cannot keep up with them. The photo is of the three new varieties. New Tomatoes

The peppers were a week or so behind the tomatoes, but they have now caught up with production. Our jalapenos came on early and strong. We have managed to can a goodly number (a little extra heat for winter!) Jalapenos We still had enough jalapenos left that we decided to make some salsa. The recipe was a combination of three and it turned out well. Two varieties of tomatoes, at least four different sweet peppers, home grown onions and, of course. jalapenos. We were both well satisfied with the result. For Gretchen, the salsa did not exceed her “too hot” level, for me, it was hot enough to make it good (I dare not hope for a bit more “heat”). The final product was good enough that we are going to make more next week, since there will again be more than enough fresh ingredients by then. SalsaWe have continued to enjoy our B&B guests this summer. Once again Martha and her mother returned for a pleasant stay. Martha brought with her a sweater she had knit using our yarn. It is always exciting to see the product of someone else using wool from our flock. Martha

Martha's sweater Adding to that satisfaction is the fact that everyone (guests, shepherds, innkeepers and sheep) get to enjoy the effort. This is Martha with one of her favorites! Martha and friend

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Random Thoughts While Haying

June and early July have been an interesting challenge for cutting, raking and baling hay. While May had been dangerously dry, June made up for it with a vengeance. During June we recorded 14 separate storms with measurable rain ranging from .1″ to 3″ in rainfall. July has not had quite so frequent rains, but the threat has been here nearly daily. I figure that I am doing well to cut hay one day, and let it dry for two days and get it baled on that third day. Haying in late JuneThere have been few stretches where it has not rained in a three day period, so our haying has been spotty. At least what we have baled did not get rained upon. Haying in late June One of the joys and  frustrations of making hay is that I must spend a lot of time on a tractor driving relatively slowly, in large concentric rectangles. One needs to pay close attention to where you are going while making sure that the haybine (hay cutter) or baler are properly operating. There is also time for thought and occasionally watching the world go by (again and again!). Usually my greatest entertainment comes from the animal life (especially birds) in the neighborhood. Every year I can count on our large resident population of barn , cliff and tree swallows to provide me with an aerial escort. The equipment never fails to stir up bug life in the hay which the swallows eagerly snatch as they fly around me. This has been an especially fine year for the swallows.

I have also noticed interesting changes from most previous years of haying. Normally when I am cutting or raking I will attract a number of Ring-billed or Herring Gulls along with Common Crows, all of whom follow behind the haybine and gobble up the occasional mouse or vole that is exposed in the cut hay. This year, however, both the gulls and crows have been noticeable by their absence. This year like most I almost always have at least one Red-tailed Hawk who sits atop one of the big Cottonwood Trees on the west  edge of the field. If conditions are right he or she will soar along high above the field and successfully grab either a mouse or ground squirrel.

Over the last couple of years I have been treated to more frequent sightings of Bald Eagles and White Pelicans. In both cases they will just be slowly passing through using the thermal currents to cut great circles above me. This year I have counted flocks of 30+ pelicans overhead. When we first moved to the farm in the 1980’s, both the Eagles and Pelicans were never to be seen.

On the negative side has been the extreme lack of butterflies of nearly everyone of the usually common local species. I am also struck by the additional lack of any insect pollinators in our vegetable and flower gardens. Not only are they missed just for their beauty but also for their services. Most noticeable of all, in terms of butterflies, are the Monarchs. Normally they begin to arrive on the farm in the last week of May. I did not see one this year until mid June, and since then I have seen very, very few. A testimony for their absence are the number of Milkweed plants we have that are totally lacking Monarch caterpillars. Sadly it is a wonderful year for Milkweed growth. Each morning as I set up a new grazing cell for the sheep I try to check any Milkweed plants that will end up being grazed. If I find Monarch caterpillars on them I will collect them and transfer them to the vigorous stands of Milkweed that we have established outside out grazing areas. So far this summer I have found exactly two Monarch caterpillars in the pastures. There is no question in my mind that the Monarchs are in very serious trouble!

On a more pleasant final note, I even have had some lovely views driving the tractors to and from the hay field. This year was beyond a doubt the best show of Dame’s Rocket blooming in the pine plantation across from us and on the slope behind our main barn. While it is an alien plant to the area, it at least beautifies the otherwise rather sterile under story of the pine plantation (which is, of course also an alien planting). Dame' s Rocket

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Back onto Pasture

At last we seem to have lost the clutches of a schizophrenic month of May. Not that long ago we were vacillating between winter, spring and summer (not necessarily in that order!). At least the blooms of the Marsh Marigolds solidified spring’s psychological hold on us. Mother Nature could not finish off winter without offering two nights of frost in mid-month. This was just after our tomatoes were transplanted into the garden; they survived with protection and are now thriving.

Mid May was time for preparing the pastures for grazing. Thankfully winter damage to the fencing and waterlines was minimal. My time working on the fence included rebuilding the waterline and electric fence connections which are buried under the gateway between pastures #1 and #2. Nearly 25 years of annual frost heaves finally were exposing the pipe and wires. They needed to be re-buried. Gate repair Considering that this segment of fencing was one of my first attempts at high tensile fence construction in 1990, I am quite proud that it has lasted this long. Gate repairedI had good company while repairing the fence. A pair of Bluebirds are nesting in the box next to the gate. They were not too happy about my presence. A small flock of Canada Geese took up daily residence during the first three weeks of May. One never knew which pasture they would settle into for a day. While repairing the gateway the group was next door in pasture#3. Geese in #3Closer by, a curious White-Crowned Sparrow kept me company. White CrownOf more exciting interest has been the regular presence of Sandhill Cranes in the pasture nearly every day. They are still here into early June.

The sheep finally got out onto pasture on May 18th. It was a happy day for everyone. On pasture May 18thTwo days later we opened the Gallery for the season. Gretchen gave indigo dyeing presentations throughout the weekend and in the process got lots of lovely yarn dyed. Gretchen dyeing with indigo

indigo dyed yarnBy the 1st of June the flock had already grazed through the first two pastures on their rotation. Now we are in pasture #3. They have also been receiving regular guest visits on pasture. During the winter months I believe that many of them truly miss the regular contact with our guests.Sheep Visits

Sheep Visit

Busy times are ahead. It is soon time to begin baling hay!

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