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.

Soggy, Wet and Cold

If you live in northeast Wisconsin I do not need to tell you that September and October have been exceedingly wet. For those of you who live elsewhere I will hopefully describe what has been going on here. In the 47 days since the 26th of August at the farm we have experienced 22 separate days with measurable rain. In that period we had only one run of 5 days without rain; the next longest “dry” period was 2 days! I do not know what our total precipitation for the year has been at the farm, but I know that Green Bay broke its all time annual precipitation total in mid-September (and that is with nearly three and a half months still to go!) By the way, their previous record year was last year.

All the rain has made grazing a difficult task for the flock. On so many days they stayed in the barn where we fed some of our winter hay. On days when they could get onto pasture, the forage was often wet and the ground soggy. I had to play a delicate game of making sure that the ground was not so wet that it turned into mud with too many hooves grazing on it. Nevertheless we are coping. So rather than continue any further with a narrative of the frustration of wet weather I will try to look at the sunny highlights that popped up occasionally.

Our gardens have for the most part prospered. As I wrote last time, Gretchen’s flower gardens have been especially beautiful. With a few exceptions the vegetable garden has also done well. Our only major disappointment has been that we did not get as nice a crop of artichokes as usual. Our melon crop developed later than normal, but was truly impressive toward the end. In addition to the vegetables in the garden we also grew some of our dye plants around the edges. Cosmos flowers for dyeingOn one of the sunny days this is the cosmos patch after I had harvested the last set of blossoms for the year. The orange cosmos yield a lovely orange dye while the white and purple flowers produce a beautiful soft yellow. One of our freezers is now stuffed with bags of cosmos blossoms, along with an equally large quantity of marigold blossoms. We had hoped to do a lot of dyeing this fall. Unfortunately that will have to wait, not because of the weather, but because our white yarn has yet to return from the mill.

Because of the abundant moisture our pastures have also grown more vigorously than usual. As a result we had to bypass some of the pastures in order to assure that the others got properly grazed. The sheep are creatures of habit and seem to know the normal pasture rotation. So when we bypass one of the pastures confusion can occur. We were able to mow and bale hay from pasture number #3. As a result, the first time the flock set foot on that pasture was September 17th. Pasture #3 is in the extreme southeast corner of the farm. It is a good quarter of a mile hike to reach it. For the first few days the flock just assumed they should make the “normal” right turn off of the first pasture and head up the hill into the “orchard” pasture. Instead of following behind them I found that I had to walk around the entire flock and lead them past that turn off and another into #2. Eventually we got things straightened out, but there were some memory relapses, even on the last day going out to #3. This is the flock heading out at sunrise on October 10th. The flock heading out to pastureThey did just fine on this first leg until they got to this point (which happens to be where the path branches of to the “orchard”). They waited until I worked my way to the front. Then we were ready to go again. This is Vespera following me and leading the rest. The front of the flock heading out to pastureI was still in the lead all the way around the edge of #2 until we finally made it through the gate into #3. At last the goal was in sight and I had to step aside in order to not get run over. Since this was the last day on this pasture the flock needed to go to the very western end. They made that sprint in close to record time! The flock on the last leg of their journey out to pastureWe did all make it to the end of the trail with each of us in relatively good shape. It was nice to see everyone busy with grazing almost as soon as they arrived. (By the way this was the last day of the one and only 5 day period without rain.)  Grazing the last of pasture #3One of the atypical conditions caused by our weather is that the fall colors are quite mixed up. Some of our trees are still quite green, some have turned yellow (as they are at the end of this pasture). And some of the trees have already dropped all their leaves. On our farm we are seeing virtually no red fall colors this year. There also seems to be no rhyme or reason for the different conditions, i.e none of the species of trees are behaving uniformly.

The season is wrapping up very rapidly. The B&B will close for the year after next weekend. The same is true of the gallery, but we will continue to offer yarn for sale this winter from the house. The sheep will have a few more days on pasture. They will be out grazing when and if is not pouring rain and until the truly cold weather sets in and the waterlines to the pastures freeze up. I do not even wish to predict when that will occur. Until then all of us, sheep and humans, will be happy for any good grazing days!

Upcoming Events

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

*We are currently not open for the sale of yarn.

* 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 at least thru June 2020

* Whitefish Bay Farm Gallery is closed at least thru June 2020

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

The current dyeing projects are yet to be scheduled

* Gallery closes for the season after Sunday, October 25, 2020

* The Bed and Breakfast closes for the year October 25, 2020

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