The Ewe Turn has been silent for a very long time. It is time for us to come out of an extended hibernation and rejoin the rest of the world. We have spent the better part of a year purposefully in a bit of isolation, due largely to the Covid pandemic. For the two of us, Pussa the Cat and the entire flock, it has been a peaceful and quiet time. The B&B has been effectively closed for over 2 years now. It is now officially closed, as we have not renewed our license and stopped all advertising. The Gallery has also been closed for that same space of time, but we have retained an online presence, albeit a much smaller one, selling our fiber products on a limited basis. We have missed our contacts with the friends that we have made over the years in the B&B and Gallery. However, the time off has been relaxing and quite restful.
When the last Ewe Turn was written a year ago, we had just completed shearing the flock and were in the process of preparing the fleeces for sale. The fleece sale went well; all of the fleeces were sold within just a couple of hours. For that we are always eternally grateful to those of you who have supported us and the flock with your purchases.
Last spring the flock was able to begin grazing in early May. This was the scene of their first hours on pasture. As always, they seemed glad to be out in the sunshine and feasting on lush green grass.At this point the flock was smaller in size, as we had lost some over the winter, largely due to the complications of old age. The small flock size proved to be a challenge for me. Fewer sheep were grazing than I had been accustomed. In addition their advancing age means they tend to eat less than a comparable sheep of a younger age. I had to learn to adjust the size of the day’s pasture so that they did an adequate job cleaning up. This means that they move through the pastures at a slower rate than in the halcyon days of a larger flock accompanied by numerous lambs. By the end of the gazing season we had managed to work our way through three pastures a couple of times, as compared to at least five pastures in past years.
In 2020 due to severe weather we lost the lovely clump of cedar trees that stood between the house and Gallery. We opted to start with a new planting scheme as a replacement. It consists of an upright magnolia tree surrounded by new flowers. The planting was completed in late 2020. By mid-summer of 2021 it presented itself with its best appearance. We were hopeful that it would add to the view both from inside and outside the house. As I write that hope may be challenged this coming spring. Over winter a small army of cheeky deer and rabbits decided that much of the planting tasted better than the plants which were advertised as not being on the deer favorite list. We will have to see what survived and adjust plantings accordingly!
We had one last batch of mill-spun yarn which we hoped to naturally dye last summer. We do not believe that we will be able to get another similar batch of yarn spun in future years, because the continuing reduction in the size of the flock and the closing of our preferred woolen mill. The weather this last summer was not often conducive to dyeing, but by late summer, Gretchen managed to get a large batch of yarn dyed. It was a beautiful collection. We have opted to keep the large majority of it for our own use in weaving projects. The remaining yarn sold off in a couple of days, before we could even get it posted to the website.
By fall, the flock was well into the final days of grazing for 2021. Here they are in September, at the north end of the “Orchard” pasture (right next to the house and Clark Lake Road). They were having a hard time keeping up with the growth of pasture. From here they still had half of the pasture to graze and then all of Pasture #1. The weather allowed for comfortable grazing through October. The final day on pasture was October 24th.It has felt like a long unending winter for all of us. It has been cold here, with very little snow cover. In addition we received a thick ice cover in early December which did not completely disappear until very recently. I am sure that the flock and the two of us will be very glad to enjoy signs of spring , warmth and new grass.
Shearing was a couple of weeks late this spring, due to the weather and the arrival of a new member of our shearer’s family. I can guarantee that the flock was happy to get rid of just over a year’s growth of wool. This is a view of the flock the day before shearing. A number had already had to have their faces trimmed up a bit just so they could see well. Vespera manage to avoid the early face trim despite the fact that she needed it. A day after shearing was completed, everyone was outfitted with smaller, clean coats. Sadly, the weather also turned colder again, so it has taken a while for everyone to adjust to the temperature change, sans fleeces. At least there was nice, warm sunlight coming through the east facing windows each morning for the first few days after shearing. Nearly everyone lined up to catch the warmth one they finished breakfast.
For those of you who are interested in purchasing fleeces, we hope to have all of the fleeces skirted, weighed and rated by mid-April. If you purchased fleeces from us over the last couple of years, or if you signed up to be on our mailing list, we will be sending out emails a week or so before the online sale date, providing the date and time of the sale. We will be in touch soon.
Lastly, thank you for staying with us during our “hibernation”. We promise to return more frequently in the future.
Like so many activities in this Covid 19 pandemic era, shearing the flock has become “a different animal”. We decided to wait a little bit this year, in the hopes that the weather would be warmer. Luckily this proved to be the case. Making sure that all of those involved with the operation were as protected as possible from infection was more problematic. We kept the crew as small in number as possible, i.e five of us. One of the five was fully vaccinated; two of us were partially vaccinated; two, including the shearer, had yet to be given a shot. No one else was any part of the operation. We also shortened the time line for the operation. The entire flock was sheared in a single day. That proved to be a bit too long for all concerned. The marathon ended about 7 PM! The following day, Gretchen and I along with our trusty assistant M.J. got the entire flock in clean, properly sized jackets. The next day I received my second vaccination, which proved to be poor timing for me physically, since my already aching muscles proved to be further antagonized.
Despite everything shearing was a success. Opportunities to take many pictures were limited due to manpower shortages and our trying to finish the job in a day.. The images I managed on my phone reflected the gray, dark day outside. Nevertheless, here is a brief collection. We tried to keep faces trimmed ahead of shearing, just so that the individuals could see a bit better. One of those who managed to avoid us was Ysabel. Despite the wool hanging over much of her face she still managed to be one of the last to get sheared (i.e. did not let me near her even in the confined pen!). On the other hand, Dorte could at least see pretty well. For her that is especially important since she is one of the friendlier girls who often gets treats prior to dinner! Dorte’s twin sister Dagmar looks a whole lot different once she was sheared. She made a point of coming down to the shearing area to socialize, and to watch the goings on. Cha Cha was one of the last ewes sheared. She too came down to watch the show, but was much less certain about socializing at the time. Many of the ewes could care less about “entertainment”. Much more important was catching up on breakfast and lunch, which they missed due to shearing. By the next morning everyone had caught up with meals. It was obvious that meals were appreciated for the next few days, due to the loss of thick coats and what therefore seemed like cooler areas in the barn.
After a couple of days rest, we turned our attention to processing the clip. As I write, Gretchen is toiling away in the basement, skirting and grading each fleece. We hope to be done with that portion of the task relatively soon. When we are finished, we will be contacting all of last year’s customers to find out if they wish to reserve the same fleece that they purchased last year. Those customers from the last couple of years who decided not to make a purchase last year, will also receive an email announcing the fleece sale date. In addition, an email will go out to anyone who contacted us over the last 12 months, wishing to be added to our potential customer list. If you are not on our potential customer list, but wish to be notified of the sale date you should complete our Fleece Contact form as soon as possible.
The fleece sale is coming soon…we will be in touch!
This image of snow in our back yarn first appeared here in December 2008. Today, in January 2021, there is not nearly as much snow on the ground. The birch tree is much larger and the garden shed is much more in need of paint. So in some ways things have not changed and yet they still have!
The Ewe Turn Blog began its life 12 years ago and has been plugging along at differing paces ever since. Our website has been around for a lot longer. It too has evolved with time. In all the time that we have shared a bit of our lives with the world, I never really imaged that I would be writing about our current situation. Dramatic changes have occurred in our operation over the last year, due to the evolving corona virus pandemic. Early last year we made some decisions about the farm which we hoped would be temporary. Now after a year of an altered life we have made some difficult and major permanent decisions regarding our lives and the various operations of Whitefish Bay Farm. As of 2021 the Bed & Breakfast is permanently closed. The Gallery is also permanently closed, but it will try to carry on in an altered online form. On the other side we are not closing down our farming operation. The sheep are still with us and will continue to produce quality wool for as long as they are healthy and as long as we are strong enough to support them.
Those of you who have stayed with us over the last couple of years and those of you who have visited the gallery in that time, may have heard us talking about a gradual effort to cut back on our hours in the B&B and in the Gallery. In a sense we were slowly, yet steadily, cutting back on our operation with an ultimate goal of some sort of “retirement” in the distant future. The current health crisis served to rapidly modify our day to day perspective. It created an environment which made it nearly impossible for two older individuals to be able to safely operate a B&B and still be able to offer an enjoyable and safe experience for our guests and a feeling of satisfaction on our part. The same conditions also damaged whatever was an enjoyable gallery experience for all concerned, customers and fiber artists.
Should you look at our website, you will notice that these changes are reflected there. We are leaving portions of our B&B and Gallery pages intact, but only as a historical or nostalgic reminder of what was at one time for us a joyous operation. If you look at our Mercantile Page you will see that we have begun the process of attempting to sell online much of what we produce from our fiber. Currently those offerings are limited. Gretchen did not have sufficiently good fall weather to achieve any significant amount of dyeing. Hopefully with warmer weather to come this spring that effort will be corrected. Along the same vein, both of us cut back on our normal winter time weaving projects, until we could sort out what direction our lives were headed. Now we need to overcome the inertia to get projects coming off our looms again. We will be shearing the flock in mid-March (assuming that all of our shearing crew stays healthy!). If we succeed with shearing, we will again be offering fleeces for sale in mid-April.
Gretchen and I originally dreamed of this operation in the 1970’s. It became tangible with the purchase of the Farm in 1983 and the immediate opening of the Gallery the next spring. It was followed by renovations and modernizations which permitted us to start our flock in 1990 and to open the B&B in 1991. We do not plan to abandon this existence anytime soon.
Over these last 30 years we have had the humbling pleasure to get to know so many truly wonderful people. At one time they were “just guests”, now many of you are our truly dear friends. We miss you! We truly hope that sometime in the future, life will again let us meet with you face to face. The prospect of sharing conversation and cups of coffee on the front porch almost seems like an exotic dream. I can feel reasonably sure that the sheep will also look forward to schmoozing with someone other that the two of us. Take good care!
It is difficult to believe that we are nearly finished with fall. Despite the difficulties and stress that the Corona virus has dished out to us, life at Whitefish Bay Farm has rattled along rapidly and as peacefully as we could hope. We have greatly missed the interaction that we would normally have experienced with our B&B guests and Gallery customers, not to mention family and friends. Like us, our sheep are showing their advancing age, but, also like us, they are still doing pretty well. We lost one of our ewes, Yummy, to health complications partially age related, but otherwise the rest of the flock made it through the grazing season and have now moved into the barn to spend the winter in relative comfort.
In September we grazed pasture #3 for the last time this year. That pasture is probably my special favorite. It is located in the extreme southeast corner of the farm. It is the most isolated and quiet pasture that the sheep graze. The soil is especially rich and that has benefited our efforts to grow a very good mix of grasses and legumes. I am especially happy with the success we have had in establishing a vibrant growth of trefoil. Because of its location, it is also the most peaceful pasture that we graze. It is always special, setting up fencing, knowing that I will often encounter wildlife each morning. It also is a very beautiful place. This image is from late September, the second to last day for the sheep to graze #3 this year. Much of the pasture is surround by trees, both deciduous and conifer. In the fall it is usually a great collection of fall colors among the trees. When this picture was taken one of the few beech trees growing on the farm had already started to show some great coppery orange.
Just under 3 weeks later most of the deciduous trees were displaying wonderful fall colors. By then the flock had moved on to another pasture. This is what the west end of #3 looked like in early October. The trees with color include beech, birch, maple and ash. Sadly, in this year of health crisis, this picture will probably never be replicated. The damage being done to our native ash trees by the invasive emerald ash beetle was finally apparent in this pasture. Most of the burgundy and yellow colors in this scene are the contribution of the ash trees. This seems to be the last area of the farm to experience the damage and death caused by this alien insect. There are just a couple of trees which can be seen which have already lost their leaves and are dying. Next year this will be quite a different scene. I suspect that most, if not all, of the mature ash will be dead by then. We have already lost nearly all of the ash in the western 20 acres of the farm, an area which is predominately ash and cedar. That woodland is now full of dead ash skeletons. I will especially miss this view next spring. It is ironic that the the year 2020 has produced so much trauma and so many different tragic deaths, both human and otherwise.
After finishing with pasture #3, the flock moved to the pasture nearest the house, the pasture we know as “the orchard”. By this time, mid-October, the trees were displaying especially brilliant fall colors. Two weeks into October and our maple grove was glowing!The presence of the flock, close to home, was especially comforting. It is always nice to “share breakfast” with them when they are so close. Ten days after this image, we experienced a rapid decrease in temperatures. Strong winds removed much of the fall leaves from the trees for a drastic change in appearance. With a run of days when the temperatures dropped to 20°F (-7°C), the waterlines to the pastures froze up. With no warmer temperatures in sight, we decided to call a halt to the grazing season for 2020. October 20th was the flock’s last day on pasture. Ironically things warmed up again in mid-November. But by then I had managed to get the pasture pipes shut off and drained. In addition all of the portable fence equipment was collected and stored away for the winter. We could sense that the flock was probably just as happy to remain in the barn. Weather conditions inside were more pleasant and the quality of the grazing forage outside was much less after the hard frost. Now it is up to the two of us to get into a winter routine, which is going to be decidedly different than we have experienced before.