Staying Busy Before Shearing

A little over a month ago I posted a blog entry which, among other things, talked about a new blanket project on my loom. Since that time the weaving was completed, along with the finishing touches for the blanket. We decided that we liked the new pattern enough that we would weave another one, in a different color scheme, this time blue and gray.

Over the last couple of weeks we have received our newest supply of naturally colored yarns spun from our wool by Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill. As a result we have a very plentiful supply of naturally colored yarn for us to use and also to offer for sale. Currently we are awaiting a new batch of white yarn, but we now have lots of yarn with which to work.

Gretchen has been weaving up a storm on her smaller rigid heddle loom. The bulk of her efforts has been directed toward weaving fabric with which to make decorative pillows. Pillows on the LoomIn the current project she is using a mix of mill spun yarn and her own hand spun yarn, in various shades of gray along with white. Below is a selection of her new pillow collection. Obviously more are on the way.

Blue Pillows

Brown and earthtone PillowsFrom time to time we hear from people who have purchased some of our yarns. In some situations we receive pictures of the objects into which the yarn was transformed. Below are some critters that Jean knitted, mostly with our yarn. She donates the creatures to a group that distributes them to children in poor families in Honduras. Here is a Hedgehog….HedgehogFollowed by a family of bunnies….Knit BunniesAnd of course, more bunnies….We are thrilled and honored that our yarn could be a part of this project. Thank you Jean for your beautiful, whimsical work, along with your effort to help a good cause!


Finishing Off a Hay Stash

This winter has been a difficult one, especially since the first of the year. Both the sheep and shepherds have had to deal with alternating periods of over a week of continuous, single digit, cold temperatures, follow by brief warm ups, at times accompanied by significant snows. On occasion the temperatures got warm enough to partially melt the snows, only to be followed by a return into the deep freeze. These cycles seem to have been especially difficult for some of the older ewes. We have at least managed to keep the flock in the barn and therefore relatively comfortable and out of the wind.

Our very first winter of exclusively feeding large round bales of hay to the sheep has been a learning adventure for us, but we seem to be doing pretty well. It is always an “interesting” event to bring large bales into the barn if the temperatures are in single digits and the winter winds blowing strongly. The alternative is to try to move the bales when it is snowing. In either scenario I am especially glad for the smaller of my two Massey Ferguson tractors. The bale spears are working well and, so far, I have had no difficulty getting the tractor started in the coldest of weather. Plus, four wheel drive has been absolutely necessary!

It warmed up recently, just in time for me to bring more 4 more bales into the barn. Storage space is limited in the annex to the barn and as a result moving new bales inside is totally dependent upon first finishing off all the bales that previously occupied the space. This is what the space looked on Thursday morning after feeding the last of the previous bales to the flock. Empty Hay Barn in late FebruaryBringing in those 4 bales marked a turning point in our winter season. Those bales were the last of our supply that had to be stored outside, under tarps. Last Bales Stored OutdoorsAfter this hay came into the barn, the remainder of our supply of round bales is stored under roof in our machine shed. At present it appears that we will comfortably have enough hay to get us well into spring and the grazing season. The 5 bales that were not covered by tarps were of poor quality and served as anchors with which to hold the tarps down. The process of moving these “anchor” bales, then the pallets which also hold down the tarps, followed by removing the tarps, actually is more time consuming than moving the bales themselves. Bales Gone from Outdor StorageThe job took over a couple of hours, but it was done, not too soon. As can be seen when comparing the two images, the snow cover turned to slush and began to melt. We managed to flatten out the two tarps, get them rolled up and undercover before things got too sloppy. The extra “crummy” bales and all of the pallets are now temporarily on a hay wagon. (And by the way…the slush has since turned to solid, rock hard ice!)

The last four bales are now in the barn. Bales in the BarnWith these bales we should have about 16 day’s worth of feed for the flock. It will be interesting to see what type of weather I will have to deal with after those 16 days, when next I need to bring more hay into the barn! In the meantime the two of us will be busy inside working on different fiber projects. Further accounts of those efforts will follow shortly.

Whiteout on the Loom

15 January 2018

At Whitefish Bay Farm, like much of the Midwest in December and January, we have found ourselves in the deep freeze in terms of temperatures and buried in various depths of snow. Locally we have been spared the truly dangerous temperatures, but so far we have gotten down to -15° F (-26° C). As I write we are experiencing a “good” lake effect snow which is expected to drop as much as 18 inches of snow upon us. Yesterday, before the snow arrived I was lucky enough to move an additional 5 large round bales of hay into the barn addition. At least we are now set for another 20 or so days of feed for the flock before I will need to bring more inside. In short, it has been a good time to spend indoors as much as possible, perhaps reading a good book or doing some weaving. Or, if you are Pussa, you spend some time at the window next to my loom either observing the work on the loom or watching the birds outside at the feeders. Pussa in the windowOn my large loom it was time to begin a new series of blankets. The beginnings of such a project with a new pattern always requires that a different tie-up has to be created for the various harnesses. On the Glimåkra loom that means spending a fair amount of time crawling around on the floor under neither the loom. (Not my most favorite job!) The next step is to measure out the yarn which will constitute the warp (i.e.the yarn which runs from back to front of the loom). For this blanket, that entails 573 lengths of white yarn which will have to be threaded through the reed on the beater and then through individual heddles which are fastened to the separate harness in a precise order (which in part determines the pattern to be woven). It is always a slow and tedious process which must be done perfectly to avoid any structural and pattern errors. This whole process is know as “slaying” the loom. So here we are, the warp has been threaded through the reed and then the heddles behind the reed. The center warp yarns are already tied to the front beam.Installing the warpIt had been a long time since last I slayed my loom in the dead of winter using white yarn. The previous few years seemed to have always used darker yarn for the first warp. I had forgotten what a challenge it was to thread white yarn through white plastic heddles when the landscape all around outside was also totally white with snow. Perhaps this angular view gives a better sense of the potential for chaos. warp seen from the side

warp from behind the loomAt this point the threading was finished and it does not appear too chaotic. But during the process it was visually difficult and maddening, due to everything being bright and white. It took the better part of two days to get everything right. Lots of time was spent re-doing sections in which I had made errors. When I finally figured that everything was correct, it was time to begin weaving. Only at that point did I discover a couple of additional threading errors! Correcting those errors took a significant amount of time.

Nevertheless the warp was finally correct and weaving could proceed. I am about 36 inches into the blanket. Here is what it looks like so far. blanket taking shapeThe difficult and tedious part of the job is now history. The act of weaving is so much more enjoyable and rewarding. However, I still need to avoid looking out the window on the sunny days. It takes a while to get ones eyes adjusted to the light inside. Today should not present too many of those problems: the snow is coming down too thick and heavy to allow any significant amount of sunshine through. I better get back to weaving.

Round Bales on the Winter Menu

Folks who have followed the Ewe Turn blog this year will know that we had a terrible time trying to get our hay cut, dried and baled. By mid August we had only managed to successfully bale 725 small bales, when normally we would have a supply of at least 2500 bales set up to get us through the winter. However, just before the end of August we succeeded (with the help of a neighbor) in getting the remained of our 30 acres cut and baled into large round bales. That supply assured us that we would have more than enough hay to comfortably feed the flock through the winter and spring.

The strange part of the fall weather was that it did not cool off nearly as much as usual, even though the rains continued to exceed their usual amounts. As a result the entire flock was still grazing nice, lush pasture until nearly the end of October. Here is a view of the flock from October 20th, grazing what we know as the “Road” Pasture. The flock grazing in late OctoberThe flock lost a bit of grazing ground on this pasture since we had 30 round bales that needed to be store outside under tarps. (We filled up all of our inside storage space with an additional 38 bales.) As can be clearly seen, most of our trees were still holding on to lovely fall colors despite the late date. Our vegetable garden was also still going strong because it had been warm and there had been no killing frost. Garden in late October Lots of our vegetables had been completely harvested. But during the last full week of October the peppers were continuing to produce a prodigious volume. We finally got a good harvest of artichokes. And, the dye flowers, Marigolds and Cosmos still had not shut down. By the 23rd of October the flock had rotated through all of their regular pastures, so we began grazing the section of our hay field that we had succeeded in baling earlier in the summer. Suddenly on October 26th we received a dramatic killing frost. The garden was “toast”. I managed to remove all of the dead plants  and here is the scene by October 29th; the garden is gone. Garden after frostThe pastures were also compromised by the frost. In addition the forecast called for continuing cold weather. I shut off and drained the outside water lines to the pastures before they froze up. Without water and with suddenly poorer grazing, the flocked moved into winter quarters on October 27th.

With the flock moving indoors we began a new experience for the sheep and the shepherds: feeding and eating large round bales indoors. Our plan is to hold our supply of small square bales in reserve, for periods when we cannot get the round bales into the barn due to weather conditions. As long as we can, we planned to feed the round bales. We have had experience feeding round bales outside during a couple of summers when, due to drought, we ran out of pasture. In those conditions the round bales can be placed on their sides in a pasture where they are surrounded by a four-sided collapsing fence. The sheep can put their heads through spaces in these feeders and are able to eat without trampling on the hay. Unfortunately the round bales are much too large to fit through any of the doors in the main barn. We have fed large square bales indoors in a number of situations. This has entailed breaking the bales apart into slabs and then dividing the slabs to fit into the 14 5-side feeders in the barn. In many ways it is just the same as feeding small square bales. However, round bales do no break into convenient slabs. They are one continuous slab, which has to be unrolled and torn apart (and there are no convenient perforated edges). It therefore has been a learning experience for all of us. I believe that we now have things working on a good routine. Here is what is now going on; I will use this week as the example.

Moving round bales We can comfortably fit 2 round bales on their sides inside the annex to the barn. This means having enough space that I can get the tractor completely into the annex before I unload the bale and tip it on its side. There must also be enough room that I can easily walk all the way around the bale as I unwind it. I have learned to judge how much hay from the round bale will equal the amount we used to feed from small square bales. Each meal I end up with 14 piles of hay of (hopefully) equal weights, which I then must carry into the main barn to place in each of the feeders. When we finish off those two bales we bring two more bales into the annex. Above I have just removed a bale from under the tarp. Now begins the trip into the annex. Round bale moving into barn annexWhen we built the annex to the barn we did not image that we would some day be moving such large objects into it on a regular basis. The slope up into the annex is a bit tricky, especially with a bale weighing over 600 pound on the front of the tractor. Now is when I am especially thankful for a 4 wheeled drive tractor! (A project for next spring is to put down a good solid gravel base for what has become a driveway.) Round bales placed inside the annexOnce the tractor is inside, the bale needs to be tipped over onto its side. Here the job is nearly done. The next two bales are in place and ready to feed. (The bales that are stacked behind these two are part of our indoor inventory, to be fed once the outdoor stored bales are finished.) Round bales ready to be fedThis is the next round bale to be unrolled and fed. Each armload of hay makes its way through the doorway in the background and on into the smaller feeders in the main barn.

We began feeding this bale this morning. We seemed to have gotten a good fix on a successful amount to feed each day. This is now the 16th bale we have fed. Each bale almost always lasts 4 days. As a result I will need to repeat this transfer operation every 8 days this winter. The sheep seem content. They are cleaning up what we are feeding them and are not complaining before it is time for their next meal. They all appear to be maintaining good condition. Therefore we are pleasantly surprise how well this emergency procedure is working out. What will happen with the operation when and if we receive a couple of feet of snow remains to be seen. Stay tuned!

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Upcoming Events

* We are open year round for the sale of yarn. Before May 18th we are open by happenstance or by appointment

* Sheep shearing, early March

* Online Fleece Sale, mid-April. Contact us to be on the mailing list for immediate updates

* May 1st – the Bed and Breakfast opens for 2018

* Whitefish Bay Farm Gallery opens for its regular exhibition season Friday, May 18th. Open every day except Tuesdays, from Noon to 5 PM

* Special Gallery exhibits. Check here throughout the season for special events and shows. The fiber dyeing will occur (weather permitting) into early October

* Gallery closes for the season after Sunday, October 21, 2018

* The Bed and Breakfast closes for the year October 21, 2018

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