How Life Changes at Whitefish Bay Farm

May was both a difficult and comforting month for everyone at the farm. As we entered May it was often cold and wet. The pastures were slow to green up and grow with the result that it was not possible to get the flock out onto pasture as soon as we would have liked. Eventually it did warm up and the pastures exploded in growth. The spring wildflowers were late in blooming, but when they started it was a dramatically beautiful display. The Marsh Marigolds in our Cedar/Ash wetlands were spectacular.

Finally with the last week of May, we were able to get the flock started on pasture. As always, the first day out is very special for the sheep and for us. The first day out began in heavy fog, but that did not deter the ewes from sampling their first green grass of the year. The first day on pasture in 2020The only thing missing from this special day was the presence of new lambs. They are still deeply missed. Nonetheless the ewes were happy. Velveeta seemed a bit serious about everything, but that is her way. Velveeta on pastureOn the other hand Cha Cha was definitely smiling. Cha Ch on pastureAnd Calamity Jane seemed to be a bit more reserved.Calamity Jane on pastureIt was also reassuring to have a number of regular May events occur, seemingly as if perfectly timed. The first Monarch butterflies arrived at the farm in the last week of May. It was a pleasure to look up from working in the vegetable garden to see the first arrival fly by.

As also seems to be the predictable case, the next morning we spotted a newborn White-tailed fawn disappearing into deep grass in the pasture outside our breakfast window. I regret not documenting the frequency of the event, but it now seems like many, many years that we have always had fawns born within the confines of what we call the Orchard Pasture. I am a firm believer that the mother finds some degree of security within that pasture and its close proximity to the house. It would not surprise me to learn that we have had at least 3 or 4 generations of White-tailed Deer born in this same location.

On the less than positive side of life in May, Gretchen and I made the difficult decision that we would not open our B&B nor our Gallery in 2020. The uncertainty of our safety in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is too great. In addition, the suggested guidelines for operating a B&B and/or a gallery make it almost impossible for the two of us to realistically operate either business at present. There are just too many constraints and unknowns to make the effort worthwhile and enjoyable. As we get into this coming winter we will re-think our position and decide whether we open either business in 2021. On a more positive note, we are thinking of offering more of our fiber productions online, including our finished woven productions and naturally dyed yarns. If we figure out a plan we will announce in here in the Ewe Turn blog.

In the meantime, as we enter June, we can at least enjoy views of the flock on pasture, accompanied by our barn swallows cruising through the foggy morning.First day on pasture for the flock

Coping with Life During the Pandemic

The status of the Bed & Breakfast and Art Gallery during the COVID 19 Corona Virus Pandemic

24 March 2020 – We have decided to close the Bed & Breakfast and Art Gallery for the months of May and June 2020. We have made this decision in concern for our own health and well being, as well as the health and well being of our community and of those who visit Door County.

The two of us fall into the pandemic’s high risk category. Our community of Door County is coping as best it can for its year round residents. Under these conditions this community will have great difficulty caring for an influx of visitors and we urge our potential visitors to delay their visits until conditions have improved nationally. At the present time only essential services are open and Door County is very quiet, as residents stay home to comply with our Governor’s “Stay at Home” edict.

We will revisit our decision on the15th of each month as to whether we will reopen the following month. We have cancelled all B&B reservations for May and June. If we close for any months after June we will contact those with reservations at least 15 days prior to the beginning of the following month. We will also try to post any other relevant information to our Ewe Turn blog as events may change.

We hope that you can understand our concerns and will be supportive of our decisions. We look forward to seeing our friends and customers as soon as life becomes safer for all of us.

It’s Shearing Time Again

An excessive amount of time has passed since last we posted a Ewe Turn entry. For that we offer many apologies. Life has been a bit crazy for much of this winter, right up to the present. Right now we will not get into our status with the corona virus pandemic, save to report that so far we are coping well. We have the “luxury” of not having the B&B and Gallery open at this time, which lessens the issues with which we currently must deal. Once we get closer to the B&B and Gallery season we will update all of you about our status in this regard.

Mother Nature has had her own special ways of sending us messages this winter. Just before the beginning of December we endured a winter storm which featured heavy, wet snow and freezing rain, accompanied by strong east winds. Many of our cedar trees were “plastered” on their east faces by thick layers of the wet snow. The resulting weight was enough to pull a number of trees down. Most significantly, we lost the clump of cedars that separate the house from the Gallery. Luckily none of the buildings were hit, but the trees were a total loss. Here is what things looked like a couple of days after the storm. Cedar trees pulled down by heavy snowAfter we got them cut down we counted tree rings. The clump had been here over 60 years. Originally they had been planted next to a machine shed/garage. That building was torn down when we moved and expanded the house in 1984. At that time we managed to salvage most of the clump, which continue to grow over the intervening years. Now sadly we are faced with a gaping landscape “hole” which we will need to fill this spring or summer.

Sometimes things look like awful messes when really they are not. Such was the case with a warp that I had prepared for my larger loom, shortly after the messy snow storm. I had just finished tying the warp onto the loom when this view presented itself. It reminded me of the trees outside, but believe it or not it was truly organized. A mess of yarn just tied onto the loomAfter a lot of knots were tied and the warp was tensioned, the “mess” cleaned itself up. A warp now looking good on the loomA week or so later this was a finished blanket!

The producers of all of this wool have been busy. Saturday and Sunday of this week we sheared the entire flock. During the three weeks prior to shearing Gretchen and I managed, on warmer days, to trim the hooves of all but 13 of the 71 sheep. They also got their annual booster shots for Tetanus and Clostridial Diseases. The weather cooperated pretty well for shearing itself, in that it was dry and not terribly cold. Even though most of the flock now feels the cold more than they did before shearing I am sure that many of the flock were happy to be sheared, at least in terms of their faces. Visibility was an issue for many, especially for Ainsley!Wooly faces waiting to be shearedFor the flock there is also an annual ritual of sheep that have not been sheared examining the newly sheared and wondering if they really recognize each other any longer. Some of the flock still waiting to be shearedA big meal was especially welcome once shearing was complete. Without the protection of so much wool a lot more hay must be consumed to keep their metabolism producing the necessary energy. Feed intake nearly doubles within a day after shearing. The flock busy eating aftering being shearedOne of the last ewes to be shorn was Yo Yo Baa. Somehow she always manages to be one of the ewes that hides in the back of the pen. Of all of the flock she is one who has an extra amount of wool. It is almost puzzling that she does not want to volunteer early to get ride of all of that wool. (Not even half done, one can hardly see the Yo yo Baa amongst the dense fleece!)Shearing Yo Yo BaaOnce the fleece is off the sheep it gets an initial skirting in the barn. Gretchen is just rolling up one of the fleeces after she has separated the good wool from the dirty edges. From here the fleece is bagged and will head for the house where we will do the final skirting in preparation for sale. Skirting a fleeceThe day following the last of shearing everyone gets fitted with a clean coat, which will protect the fleece from unnecessary dirt and will also provide a bit of extra warmth until each sheep adjusts its thermostat. Needless to say the new coats are all a couple of sizes smaller than what they were wearing just a couple of days previously.Sheep in fresh, clean coatsIf all goes well, we should have the all the fleeces prepared and ready for sale by mid-April. If you are one of our customers from over the last few years, we will be contacting you as soon as we have finalized the date. If you are not on our mailing list, but wish to be notified of the sale, please send us one of our Fleece Contact Forms (https://whitefishbayfarm.com/fleece-contact-form/).

Now all we need is warmer weather and sunshine!

New Projects and a New Visitor

The seasons have changed very rapidly at the farm in the last week or so. We had most of the leaves fall from the trees around the house and just managed to get them raked up and out of the way before winter descended upon us with a vengeance. Like many areas of the Midwest our temperatures have plummeted to record or near record lows and we have experienced early snow falls. So far our lowest temperature was 11° F (-12°C). We have been lucky in terms of the amounts of snow; southern Wisconsin has seen significantly more snow than we have. Nonetheless it has been difficult to make such a sudden transition into mid-winter type weather.

The flock has managed quite well in the current cold. At least they are all in the barn and out of the worst of the weather. Six years ago at this time was the last time that we bred our ewes. That meant that the breeding groups were all out on pasture 24 hours a day from early-October until close to the end of November. At times those groups were a challenge to care for. Often the water lines would freeze up over night and it often took a lot of sunshine the next day to get water flowing again. On occasion they would briefly get snowed upon. Had we set up breeding groups this year it would have been a disaster and I am sure that we would have had to call everything off, probably before early November. In that regard, even though we dearly miss the lambs, I am glad that we are no longer breeding the ewes.

Breeding was always a stressful time for the sheep and shepherds alike. Having the sheep spread around the farm for 5 weeks, every day and night, in small groups, was always a security concern for us, especially considering our robust coyote population. This year, for the first time, we were made aware of potential increases in our security concerns. Early in the morning of November 7th, after our second measurable snow storm, I noticed that Pussa was extremely alert at our bedroom window…not her usual morning behavior. Upon heading out to morning chores I noticed new animal tracks in the snow just outside the backdoor. For years we have been conscious of deer visits virtually right up to the backdoor. On this particular morning there were also very large canine tracks across our front lawn, right underneath the kitchen window, then across the path to the backdoor and out across the backyard, at least past the vegetable garden. The snow was not deep enough to leave a very distinct track but here is the best picture I could capture of one of the foot prints. Wolf tracks near the houseThe claw marks are on the left and the size of the footprint is quite large, nearly 5 inches long. I suspected that we had a wolf visit. Later in the morning we learned that a nearby neighbor caught an image on his trail cameras of a wolf in his backyard two days previous. Needless to say we are very glad that we did not have sheep scattered all over the farm. Since that morning we have seen no further tracks around the house or barn, but we will be looking in the future.

With the cold weather, the two of us have spent considerable time working on fiber projects for next season in the Gallery. Gretchen has already woven one set of warps for pillows and is starting to work on a second set of warps. She sold all of last year’s inventory so she has a ways to go to replenish the stock.

I just finished weaving the last in a series of scarves on my smaller Louet loom. This is the end of the scarf just prior to removal from the loom. The last of a series of handwoven scarvesI knew that I had woven quite a number of scarves in this pattern but I had lost track of how many, since all but three have been sold. Since I tied each new warp onto the remnants of the previous scarf I decided to carefully unroll all the remnants (also know as “thrums”). It turns out there were 18 total scarves in the collection. Here is a look at the collection of thrums.  Thrums from 18 scarvesThe ends of the first scarf warp is at the bottom of the image. The last two scarves, including the last red and gray scarf, are not quite visible at the top of the image. I think that it is about time to start a new pattern!

My first blanket project on the large Gilmåkra loom is actually the second blanket in this pattern. I wove the prototype late last winter. Like all my other blankets from last year it too has been sold. Close up of a blanket on the loomThe pattern is a relatively simple twill, but I believe it is very effective. The warp consists of 2 separate gray shades, and a dark brown, plus a white yarn that Gretchen died into a lovely tan using birch bark scraps that we collected over the last year. As with all of our weavings, the yarn is exclusively from our flock. Overal view of the blanket on the loomHere is an overview of the project. It is difficult to see here, but the blanket is nearing completion. So far we are pleased with it. We will need to come up with some different shades and colors for the next couple of blankets, but I believe that we should have some nice blankets ready for next spring.

Upcoming Events

* Due to the COVID 19 Pandemic we are limiting much of our business activity.

* Sheep shearing, early March

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

* The Bed & Breakfast is closed for the remainder of 2020

* Whitefish Bay Farm Gallery is closed for the remainder of 2020

 

 

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