Fleeces, Blizzards and Barn Swallows

The last ten days have been exciting, to say the very least. Gretchen and I had planned to hold our annual online fleece sale this last Wednesday. All of our preparations went smoothly, until we discovered a computer error in all of the advanced notices which we had sent out. Luckily, that discovery was early enough that we managed to get an updated email sent in time to everyone concerned. This was also to be the first time that we had held the sale since we had redesigned our website. We were not certain how well the site would work and had no way of knowing until the moment that the sale began. Thankfully, the website functioned flawlessly. As usual, the first hour and a half of the sale was totally chaotic for the two of us. I am sure that many of our customers were frustrated by their inability to get through on the phone and the slow email response times. Nevertheless, virtually all of the fleeces were sold in the first two hours. And, as of Friday afternoon the very last fleece was sold. It has been a long time since we sold out that quickly. We thank all of our customers for their loyalty and their patience!

What many fleece customers did not know was that the fleece sale was sandwiched between a record breaking blizzard and long hours of subsequent snow removal. The storm did not sneak up on us. On Thursday, the 12th of April, nearly all of our winter’s snow had melted and the third wave of migratory birds had just arrived in force. The arrivals, loads of Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Flickers, and Eastern Phoebes are all insect eaters. Robins had arrived earlier, but they too are dependent upon bugs, worms and fruit. Snow was predicted to begin over Friday night and build into a blizzard Saturday through Monday morning. The prediction for Friday night snow fall was 3″. This is what 3 inches looked like early Saturday morning. Pre-blizzard snow fall Needless to say, the 3″ was closer to 12″. As indicated by the snow cone on the bird feeder, the wind had not yet started to blow in earnest. The snow came in waves on Saturday, again on Sunday and early into Monday, but once the winds started they did not let up. Wind speeds were up to 40 mph, out of the northeast. Sunday morning this was the view from our kitchen toward the barn. Snow drift next to the barnThe drift in front of the barn door was already over 4 feet tall and growing. Yet, right next to the drift the ground was blown clear. The trips to and from the barn were true adventures. We had to shovel through a deep drift outside the back door and then shovel a path around the cedar tree to get to the small clear area. Then we had to shovel a path through the drift in front of the door to the barn. I never was able to dig all the way down to ground level, but at least we could get to the door and into the barn. Luckily the lower level of the barn held up well in terms of little snow penetrating the sheep quarters. The flock at least seemed comfortable and we managed to get them well fed. In an hour after getting to the barn, chores were finished. It was now time to return to the house. All of our excavations from an hour earlier had disappeared completely. So we just re-shoveled, knowing that this would repeat itself over and over again.

Sunday the snow and wind did not let up. This was the view out the back door Sunday morning before we headed to the barn. Our previous path was gone, completely! Path out the back door drifted over From part way to the barn, the view back to the house was telling. There was lots of snow, and this is the side of the house that was relatively drifted clear! View of the B&B from the barnBy this time the drift next to the barn had grown further. It is going to be a long while before this mass of snow disappears. Snow drift next to barnThe space behind the drift was by then a drop of at least 3 feet. There would be another 2 feet of snow to get to ground level. Behind the large driftOur disappearing pathway into the barn had now evolved into a series of snow steps. It was strange having to walk up and then down to get to the barn door level. By the time this picture was taken the snow had let up enough that the path would not have to be completely re-dug, but there was still enough to remove (once again!)."Steps" into the barnThen, of course. there was always the return trip to the house. The walkway to the door actually curves far to the right. Our temporary path is a couple of feet of snow on top of one of the flower beds. Pathway to back doorEventually the storm abated. It was reported that we had about 30″ in total snow fall. There is now going to be a lot of melting before spring planting can begin and green grass appears in the pastures.

Over the last couple of days the weather has warmed up significantly. Our large flock of Robins had subsisted for a week by eating the old apples left on our crab apple trees. There are now enough exposed patches of ground that they are able to do better food wise. I have seem very few of the warblers that were here so recently. One wonders what the bird mortality was due to this storm.

Yesterday (Friday the 20th) I finally managed to remove all of the snow from our driveway and walks. It is nice to once more have more than one door accessible into the house. Yesterday I also shoveled out the last of the snow steps into the barn; all that is left is a three foot deep path. The weather forecast is for more sunshine and warmth. As strange as it seems, out barn swallows returned yesterday afternoon when three flew into and through the barn. It was luckily warm enough that the upper doors to the barn were open. This morning the numbers of swallow had increased. It is obvious that these are returning swallows as they are immediately landing on last year’s nests and carrying on long conversations about the state of everything. Besides sunshine and warmth, these characters make you hope and believe that spring might soon be here.

 

 

Shearing Update for 2018

March is now history and it was an eventful month for sheep, our flock and Whitefish Bay Farm. First off, distant French cousins of Whitefish Bay Farm’s sheep produced the milk for this year’s World Champion Cheese. The cheese is known as Esquirrou and is crafted in the Pyrénées region of France. We are always happy to see good sheep cheese receive high praise!

On a very sad note, Knuthenlund Farm, my favorite Danish farm that produces truly wonderful sheep cheeses from their beautiful flock of over 300 ewes, has been forced to close and sell. Under the new owners the farm will remain one of the largest organic farms in Denmark, but the flock of milking sheep and herd of heritage breed Danish Red cows are gone, as is their on-farm cheese making facility. It is truly a great and sad loss for Denmark and quality food production. I was blessed to be able to visit them over the last few years. I will dearly miss them!

Back here in Wisconsin, we experienced brief periods of warmer weather during March. With the warmth has come the slow but steady influx of spring migratory birds. Sandhill Cranes made they first appearance at almost the first of the month. More recently, during morning chores, we were treated to the bugling of a Sandhill coming from the lawn just outside the barn. Bluebirds and Meadowlarks have made their first appearances. More recently Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows and Turkey Vultures have returned. Hopefully, the Barn Swallows will hold of on joining us until we can keep some of the barn doors open for their comings and goings.

A few days ago we assembled our shearing crew and managed to successfully get all of the flock sheared over the space of two days. As always it is a very intense period for all of us, sheep included. This is the scene in the barn, with all the sheep assembled on the first morning of shearing.Sheep ready for shearingAs usual I had the job of “selecting volunteers”. Some of the girls were more willing than others to step forward! Larry helped me remove their jackets, while Dylan was busy shearing the sheep that we had previously caught. Sheep being sheared while another waitsBelow is a view of Windy just about finished with her shearing. As usual she is always very cooperative, and that shows both in terms the quality of the final product and in the speed in which the job is completed. Windy being shearedOnce Dylan has completed shearing the sheep, she is released and gets to eagerly begin a delayed breakfast. In the meantime, Gretchen and MJ gather up the fleece and throw it out onto the skirting table, which is just to the right in this image. Once the fleece is on the skirting table, Savannah would sweep up and bag any of the small scraps of wool on and around the shearing board, thereby assuring that the fleece is not contaminated with any undesirable material. At this point I am ready to pass the next sheep to Dylan, who can then start shearing again.

While another sheep is getting sheared, Gretchen and MJ are skirting the previous fleece. This involves removing the poorer quality wool usually found on the legs, bellies and topknot. The two of them need to work relatively quickly since they need to have the fleece off the table before the next sheep is completely shorn. Skirting the fleeceWhen they have finished with the skirting process, the fleece is carefully rolled up and then bagged. Rolling up the finished fleeceFleece ready to be baggedAt the end of each day all the fleeces are moved upstairs into a swept area of the hay mow. Then, once we have recovered from the events of the shearing days, the skirted fleeces will find their way to our basement, five each day. Here they will air out and dry a bit, and then the next day Gretchen will do a final more meticulous skirting. Once that is completed the fleece is ready to be weighed and evaluated for price and then ready for sale.

Once shearing was completed on Sunday afternoon, the group of us assembled for our “collective mug shot”. Everyone is here except Larry, who volunteered to take the photo. I would also be remiss in not thanking Sarah, Dylan’s wife, as she did an amazing job capturing the two days with an i-Phone camera, a job that none of the rest of us could have done since, all of our hands were almost always full. Gretchen and I wish to thank all of you for your tireless work!Shearing CrewThe day after shearing, all of the crew except MJ had left. The three of us spent Monday getting all of the flock fitted with clean jackets, usually 3 to 4 sizes smaller than they were wearing the previous day. The jacket are not terribly thick, but they do serve to provide a bit of warmth and resistance to any drafts. After each sheep has its new jacket they also receive their annual tetanus and clostridial disease booster shots. Hopefully with warmer weather and green grass they are good for grazing!

As I write, Gretchen is busy with the basement stage of fleece skirting. Hopefully we will be done in a few days. When we have completely finished with the fleeces we will be ready to schedule our annual online fleece sale. If you purchased a fleece from us in the last four years or if you signed up to be on our mailing list during the last 12 months you should receive an email from us in early to mid April. If you are not on our mailing list but wished to be added, please send us one of our Fleece Contact Forms. You will be hearing from us soon!

The Latest Styles for the Flock

It seems to have been a long, long time since we managed to hack into the computer at Whitefish Bay Farm, so it is only appropriate that we bring you up to date with what really is going on with us. Yep, this is Brie, your official flock correspondent. It has been a long, cold winter that we have experienced. We keep hoping that it will warm up soon so that the grass will start to grow and that we can spend the day outside grazing. I will admit that the shepherds have kept us well fed and managed to keep it reasonably comfortable, especially during the worst of the winter weather. Perhaps it will help if we talk about other things  besides the weather!

My little buddy, Carolyn, has been pestering me for quite some time to tell you the latest in fashion and styles that are currently in vogue with us. Since this type of thing is not my cup of tea I am going to let Carolyn speak for herself. Take it away Carolyn!

*****

Thanks Brie and hello everyone. My name is Carolyn and it seems that everyone thinks that I am the fashion princess in the flock. If the fleece fits, I guess you wear it! I must tell you that I am always lovely and do not have bad hair days.

Carolyn in full fleeceMy friends  in the flock and I have recently noticed much activity in the barn. Earlier this winter the old shepherd guy moved the two rams into our part of the barn with us, so that they could be warmer and also out of the way when those big hay bales came into their barn. Aries and Clancy are such hunks; we just love them. Sadly they were given their own pen separate from ours. That’s Clancy on the left and Aries next to him.Clancy and AriesA while ago the old shepherd guy was a pill and moved the two boys back into the other barn. After that he was busy cleaning out the area where their pen had been. Next thing you know he was hauling all sorts of equipment into the area. It looked very familiar; some of us guessed it was the prelude to shearing. I asked the Nice Lady what was going on and she told us we were soon all going to the Beauty Parlor.  Whichever way it was, it was agreed by most of my friends that we were happy that the shearer was coming and we would all have better hair days ahead.

When the day for shearing came many of us decided to have our pictures taken just to show you what we had to put up with with all this wool hanging around. (We also had to humor the old Grumpy Shepherd and let him gives us hugs before our turn came. But then you know he is just a pretty simple sort in his own way!) As you will be able to see, many of my friends coped with their “bad hair” in different ways. Xanadu and Warp tried the Rastafarian technique

Xanadu

WarpVelveeta and Viva tried using “Product” to keep their locks out of their faces. VelveetaVivaBessie was a bit more creative and tried a poofy updo, channeling perhaps James Dean, Elvis or Fabian.BessieRuby has a down do and as a result does not see well. She claims that she is the oldest member of the flock at age 14. Because of that she has no use for “Product” or styling and she will just wait for the shearer.Ruby There you have it. As you can see, most of us are in need of help with our appearance! I believe that the consensus among us is that we will soon all be opting for buzz cuts.

Thank you Brie for letting me share these important insights! Respectfully submitted by Carolyn.

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!

 

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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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