White and Yellow

We cannot seem to get over the hump and into steady spring weather. The days continue to vacillate between below normal temperatures and dreary skies and warmth and sunshine. There is even a freeze warning for this evening. Our tomato plants are screaming to be transplanted out into the vegetable garden. Sorry little buddies, it is going to have to wait!

The warm days have been a special delight, when they have occurred. The first full weekend in May, Gretchen managed to get her dye pots warmed up and working. Two days produced some brilliant yellows using Weld and some flashy reds and pinks utilizing Cochineal. Here she is bringing out one of the first skeins of yellow. Dyeing, May 2016One of the bonuses for her labors was being able to work next to our Magnolia bush, which was in full bloom. It is difficult to see in the photo, but underneath the Magnolia were early tulips also in full bloom, a nice contrast in red.

During the coming week the temperatures fell and we received some scattered, but needed, rain. Dyeing needed to be put aside, partly due to the weather and partly due to the pending opening of the Gallery. Officially we open in less than a week on May 20th. It does look like Gretchen will have everything set up by then (with the possible exception of the flower garden outside the door, which may need to be delayed due to cold weather).

Toward the middle of this week it once again warmed up. The sheep are still not on pasture (much to their displeasure!). In part, this is due to the fact that the pastures are still not growing vigorously enough, but also due to the fences and waterlines not having been inspected and repaired where necessary. My task in the warmer conditions was to patrol the entire fence line, looking for winter or deer related problems. We had one large poplar that managed to fall right on top of a fiberglass post in pasture #2. The tree is now cut up and out of the pasture and a new, larger wood post has replaced the shattered fiberglass one. Over the winter the deer have managed to crash into the fence in a number of places, especially in #3. Wires have now been straightened and insulators repaired or replaced. The water line is in pretty good shape, with only slight damage from the winter temperatures. As soon as it warms up again, those repairs can be made.

Beside patrolling the fence lines, I also like to check the perimeter of our large hay field to make sure that there are no branches that have fallen along the edges which would pose a hazard to the haybine when it is cutting time. It is also an opportunity to get a feeling for how the hay crop is developing. Lastly, it is a pleasant springtime walk. I was struck by how noticeable the deer browse line was on the cedar trees along the south edge of the field. Deer Browse

Just to the right of this scene, to the west of the hay field, is our ash/cedar wetland. This time of year it is indeed wet, but it is also quite beautiful. Over the last couple of winters we have removed quite a number of ash which either have been toppled in wind storms or which have simply died. The result is a significant increase in sunlight at ground level. Due to the extra sunshine, the resident population of Marsh Marigolds have benefited tremendously. They are currently in full bloom!Marsh Marigolds

Marsh Marigolds close up

MM3With any luck, later this summer a good stand of Cardinal Flowers will replace this blaze of yellow with equally intense red.

Heading home from the walk, the farm stands out nicely against the green of the pastures. The sugar maples and birches are just starting to show signs of leafing out. It was a good day for a hike! House and barns, early spring

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Welcomes, Farewells, Fleeces and Poop

Time is slipping away, as usual. Spring has made a couple of abortive attempts. It seems that Mother Nature cannot decide if it should be warm and sunny or cold and gloomy! April gave us just about every possible variation in weather and emotions. Hopefully, now that we are into May things will move forward.

On April 14th, before the temperatures warmed up to seasonal normals, our flock of Tree Swallows arrived. It is always a joy to see them flying about the pastures, checking out possible nesting boxes. The following day their cousins, the Barn Swallows arrived. There is no question that they are returnees from at least last year. The first couple swooped into the barn during morning chores. Their flight patterns definitely indicated that they had been here before and knew exactly where their nest from the previous year was to be found. Every day their numbers increased. This morning there were at least 16 pairs present (although it is hard to get an exact number since nearly everyone is on the move). They are now in the original barn, the “new” addition and upstairs in the hay mow. Seemingly they are a very happy bunch; at least all of their twittering would indicate it.

Despite the happy swallow arrivals, life in the barn has not been all joyous this spring. The complications of old age has caught up with a number of ewes. We lost Shirley in late February. In March, Prunella died, followed in April by Queenie and Pumpkin. The oldest were 13 years, which is an advanced age for most sheep. Their passing was not unexpected, but they are all missed, each in their own special way.

By mid April we suddenly experienced warm, sunny weather. Finally the pastures began to dry out. This winter the frost never got too deep in the pastures and the surface never really dried out enough to risk repetitive trips with the manure spreader. Normally the composted manure is spread before the “dead” of winter. This last winter I had not even tried to spread the compost. The warmth of mid-April finally permitted the operation to begin. Between the 14th and the 17th I managed to get everything moved. Manure 4-16.1 By the time this image was taken the job was on its final day. Already the vegetable garden had received its quota as had pasture #3. The rest of the loads went onto the south end of our hay field. I normally like to get the spreading done much sooner so that the compost has a chance to settle before the green growth occurs. Manure 4-16.2 The day after the last load was spread I hooked up the tine harrow and worked over each of the fields to help further break up any concentration of manure. The timing was perfect since on the following day we received a nice steady rain fall of over .6″. One of the pleasures of an otherwise rather monotonous period of driving around the fields is getting to see signs of spring around the edges of the fields or above them. My first day out I watched two large separate flocks of Sandhill Cranes flying slowly north over the fields. On a couple of different occasions I was treated to a soaring adult Bald Eagle circling overhead. That is a sight that even ten years ago was virtually unimaginable.

After the rain, the fields were once again too wet to drive over with the heavy equipment, but since the job was done all we needed to do was watch the fields turn green. I had hoped that we could have continued with the alternating warm sunny days and rainy periods. The rains have slacked off a bit and the temperatures have cooled. Nevertheless I am hopeful that within a week or two the pastures will be lush enough that the flock can seriously begin grazing.

The week after the manure operation was completed we had our annual fleece sale. It has now been 14 days since the sale started. We are not yet sold out. We still have four lovely colored fleeces and four beautiful white fleeces for sale. Should you have missed the sale, but are still interested in purchasing one or more of our fleeces, go to our Fleece Page . I will be taking pictures of the remaining fleeces and (hopefully) get them posted to the next Ewe Turn.

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It is Shearing Time Again

I am currently confined to the house by bad weather. Actually the storm has proven to be less catastrophic than predicted. It was supposed to be a blizzard, with 8 to 14 inches of snow and 40 mph winds. The wind is here, but the snowfall has, so far, been more in the range of 6 inches. It is supposed to be over by tomorrow, so I am going to wait until then to shovel out. In the meantime I will try to catch up with recent events at the farm.

We had intentionally scheduled shearing for later than we have done in the past. Unfortunately, schedules got messed up and the dates were pushed back another week. At the last moment we were also faced by the possible loss of our shearer! David was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff; shearing is now not on his immediate future menu. Luckily he was able to hook us up with Dylan, one of his former students. So we were good to go on March 11th and 12th.

Weather wise we were very lucky. Temperatures were way above normal before and during shearing. I managed to get the shearing area cleaned out ahead of time. (It normally is part of the flock’s loafing area.) PreshearHere it is, all cleaned up, awaiting equipment, our shearing crew and, of course, sheep. Actually, my couple of day’s clean up labor had lots of supervisors. The girls, just on the other side of the fence, were very attentive the entire time.

The sheep were definitely ready for shearing. They were fully fleeced, some in need of larger coats. Despite us having trimmed faces in the recent past, many were also dealing with limited forward vision. Flock PreshearingIn addition, all the facial wool was a magnet for all sorts of hay from their feeders. It is obvious from the following photos why we jacket our flock to keep the main portions of the fleeces clean. So here is a collection of some good friends. awaiting shearing.

Velveeta

Velveeta

Dagmar

Dagmar

Zuzanna

Zuzanna

The rams: Andrew, Aries, Clancy and Axel

The lads: Andrew, Aries, Clancy and Axel

Cecily

Cecily

Cecily definitely has the most wool on her face (this after having had at least three trims since summer!)

Shearing went well. We were finished in two full days of work. Gretchen and I could not have done it alone. In addition to Dylan, we had a crack crew of five. Here are some of the crew with shearing in full force, Gretchen and Sandy, doing the preliminary skirting of a fleece that just came off a sheep while another sheep is being shorn.  Shearing & SkirtingMissing from the picture is myself and Russ. We are catching the next sheep and removing her coat. Meanwhile Donna is sweeping the shearing area clean so that the fleeces are not contaminated. Donna also sees to it that each fleece is properly identified when it is bagged after shearing. Helen is up at the house making sure that we are all going to be well feed at midday.

Toward the end of the second day Dylan is finishing by shearing the rams. This is Aries, about half shorn. Dylan & Aries Lastly, here is the obligatory crew photo (sans the Grumpy Shepherd). They still look to be in pretty good shape! (However, please note that when this was taken there were still quite a few sheep in the background yet to be shorn.)Shear Crew

When we were finished, everyone (human and ovine) was tired. I do think there were some happy sheep, especially the likes of Cecily. When one compares the “before” and “after” you would hardly know they were the same sheep.

Cicely, newly shorn

Cicely, newly shorn

The day after shearing was complete we manage to get the entire flock (119 sheep) back into clean jackets, all of which are much smaller to accommodate their smaller dimensions. In the same process everyone gets their annual booster shots against tetanus and clostridial diseases. Everyone is much hungrier and a lot more hay and grain are now consumed. Flock Postshear

The weather continued to cooperate for a couple more days. Some of the Georgia/North Carolina contingent of the crew took an afternoon off to hike along the shore at Whitefish Dunes State park. Whitefish Dunes State ParkThere was hardly a breeze blowing and nearly all of winter’s snow had melted. There is still energy in those young arms! It is also hard to believe that these scenes are now thoroughly buried in snow again!Whitefish Dunes Selfie

For our fleece customers, here is what you may be wondering about the near future. We (especially Gretchen) is diligently doing a final skirting on all the fleeces. As usual our work space permits us to finish 7 fleeces a day, and we are well into the total number of fleeces. When we are done, we will evaluate, weigh and price all the fleeces. Some time in mid to late April we will be contacting all of last year’s customers to determine if they wish to reserve the same fleece from the previous year. Once we know that information we will set a date for selling the rest. When we have a date, we will notify all of our customers from the last few years, along with anyone who has asked to be on our mailing list us over the last year or so. Stay tuned!

 

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Weaving for the New Year – Part 5

The weaving narrative has fallen way behind. The project was completed some time ago. A number of things have gotten in the way of the completion of the narrative: snow removal, time spent with good friends, caring for a couple of older ewes who had problems during our recent cold spell, finishing a good book by Jussi Alder-Olsen and just plain goofing off.

Without further excuses, let’s finish the blanket! Here I have reached the end of the weaving portion of the project. Weaving completedThe thin, green line is a temporary woven strip to keep the end of the blanket from unraveling until a fringe is complete. The blanket is ready to come off the loom. Cuttin off the loomI am cutting the blanket off the loom. I have allowed for enough extra yarn that there is about 7 inches of yarn at the end of the blanket with which to braid a fringe. There also is enough yarn remaining on the loom that, when I am ready, I can tie another warp for a second blanket onto the scrap ends of the first warp. This will allow me to mechanically roll the new warp through the reed and the heddles, thus saving the laborious process of manually threading a new warp. (I can only get away with this if I am planning to weave the same pattern. A new pattern will require a completely new set up.)

The blanket is off the loom and is ready for the fringe. Off the loomThe loose warp threads are gathered together (in this case in pairing groups of 5 threads) which are braided together. Each group of 5 is twisted in one direction and then the 2 groups are twisted together in the opposite direction and then knotted. FringeEventually the extra yarn, beyond the knot, will be evenly trimmed. Of the entire project this is definitely the only truly mindless work. It is handy to have a good view out the window and to have a few CD’s with some lively music playing. I find that if I am doing well, that each edge will be done at the end of the second CD! Pussa will often help by sitting on the edge of the blanket while I knot. On this day, however, she was elsewhere.

My work is now complete. The blanket is turned over to Gretchen, who will gently wash it. The washing also serves to full the yarn, i.e. it fluffs up and gently bonds to the adjacent threads of yarn, thereby strengthening the entire structure, which, at the same time makes the blanket feel much softer. Once dry, the blanket is ironed smooth and the loose ends trimmed.  Here is a look at a portion of the finished product. Finished blanket - detailsLastly, a look at the finished blanket (folded in half). Finished BlanketI am happy with the result.

By the time I get this posted, I will be well on my way with the next blanket. It is the same weaving structure. This time it has a light gray base color with stripes of three different shades of blue. Thanks for being able to peek over my shoulder.

 

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Dreaming about Green

The old shepherd guy seems to be busy (again) moving snow here and there. In the mean time, he does not seem able to finish his drawn out tale about weaving. As a result, the Ewe Turn seems to be stagnating. I guess that it is about time that we try to liven things up for you.

Hi folks, it is Brie, your faithful, but reluctant ovine correspondent. Winter seems to be dragging on here. For lack of anything better to do, a bunch of us dusted off Queso’s camera. We managed to get it charged up and working again. A few days ago we took what we though were some nice images outside the barn. You need to understand that we spend a lot of time dreaming about green pastures just outside the barn doors. Unfortunately, every time we look out the door all we see is snow, melting snow, and then brown stubble.

Actually, we have had some days when we cannot even look out the top of the dutch doors in the barn. The old guy has closed them up a few times. In reality, it was a pretty nice thing for him to do, since we have had a couple of snow storms with strong east winds. When that occurs, if the doors are open, we get a ton of snow blowing into our otherwise dry and comfy home. About a week ago for a change we did have a very quiet and peaceful snow overnight. Without any wind, the snow did not blow into the barn and just stayed wherever it landed. The only place that it did not want to stay put was on the metal barn roof. Even early in the morning we were getting miniature avalanches off the roof. Snow on the barn Here you can see that one has already happen at the end of the barn and a whole bunch more is getting ready. The old shepherd just gets grumpier every time another one slides off; they seem to always cover up some place he just shoveled clear.

Snow on a crab apple treeMaybe this picture will help show how the snow just stayed on every branch of each tree, in this case one of the crab apples. That big drift to the left is from an earlier storm. It is up against the annex where the rams get to stay. Below is our view outside the dutch doors on the east side of the barn. The snow has not yet started to slide off the roof when we took these shots, but it is here now, right in front of the doors.  Snow 1-26.6If you are a lover of bucolic scenes, this is what it looked like to the east.Snow on the ash treeFor most of us this is a pretty view, but try picturing this if it were GREEN! That would be a whole bunch better! This is our pasture, the one the old grumpy guy so poetically calls pasture #1. (I shouldn’t pick on the guy too much; he does seem to have a lot on his plate for such an old geezer).  Snow on #1So there you have it folks, the latest news from the barn. We had a snow storm yesterday and the old guy is out cleaning up again, so we should be able to hack into his computer and get this posted. We hope you find this more interesting than the other stuff.

Respectfully submitted on behalf of the entire flock. Brie

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