A Different Summer

This summer has been very different than all of the previous summers since we came to the farm nearly 37 years ago. Perhaps it could also be described as a very strange environment. With the B&B and the Gallery closed for the year, life has been much quieter for the two of us. Since late February we have spent almost all of our time at home at the farm. In this time we have only been out of Door County three times. One day was spent in a virtually non-stop drive to Mt. Horeb and back, the purpose of which was to deliver this year’s wool clip to Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill for processing into yarn. A second trip took us to Luxemburg Wisconsin to fetch a tractor part which we picked up outside the door of the quarantining Luxemburg Motors. The last and most recent trip was to Green Bay for medical tests. To date we both have remained safe from the Covid-19 virus. We both have read a lot more books than we have in years, spent some time on fiber projects and otherwise have cared for the farm, the sheep and our gardens.

Gretchen has been able to devote much more time to her flower gardens. As a result, they are quite lovely and we both get a lot of pleasure just looking at them, while the hummingbirds and butterflies seemed to appreciate her efforts. The only missing piece to the flower garden picture is the space which was once occupied by the cedar tree clump in front of the studio kitchen. Last December the trees were brought down by a heavy wet snow. This spring and summer we managed to remove the remains of the trees, along with the plants that grew beneath them. With any luck within a couple of weeks we will have a new Magnolia tree planted along with new under-story plantings. It will be nice to not look out onto a patch of bare ground!

The vegetable garden got a slow start, largely due to the wet, cool spring. Once everything was seeded or planted the garden has thrived. With the exception of a poor showing from our onions, everything is lush and still growing. Most of the harvesting is a bit behind schedule, but the plants have made up for the delay with among others an abundance of tomatoes, squash, beans, melons, cucumbers and (hopefully) artichokes. Much of the vegetable garden was planned with the notion that it would provide food for the B&B. Had we known that we would not be feeding B&B guests, the plantings would have been more limited in number.

My chores as a shepherd have been altered by many factors. The flock is, (like me), aging and we all move at a slower pace. Lots of excessive warm and humid summer weather also limits our speed. There are fewer sheep in the flock than there were a year ago at this time, with the result that they do not graze as much per day as they did when the numbers were higher. It has taken me a time to properly adjust my daily grazing areas for the flock. At times it means that the sheep are not properly keeping up with the growth in their paddocks. By the time we finished grazing the “Orchard” pasture the forage was nearly over the heads of the sheep when they started each day. This was the early morning scene as we were about finished with that pasture close to the end of July. Early morning grazing for the flockBy the end of the day the “good green stuff” (which is hidden from view) was consumed. Once this entire pasture was completely grazed I needed to come into it with a mower to chew up the long, dried grass. Within a week or two the pasture is as green and lush as the pasture in the distant upper right of the image.

Besides being slower both out to pasture in the morning and coming back in in the evening I seemed to have assumed more of a role as leader. In years past I could not keep up with the group, coming and going. Now they seem to need some guidance from me, both coming and going. It makes for a much more dignified parade! To complicate matters earlier this summer I found that I had to make sure we did not encounter any unexpected guests coming or going. For a period of about two weeks I had to make sure I was at the head of the parade in order to “herd” a baby skunk which like to take advantage of the fact that the sheep created pathways across the pastures. Here is my little buddy in the middle of the path. Baby skunk heading out to pasture with the sheepLuckily, the little guy was quite cooperative and just trotted along ahead of me, with some verbal encouragement on my part. It did not seem too upset and as a result neither the sheep nor I had to deal with any odors. Eventually, after a couple of weeks, my buddy moved on to a different area that we were not passing through. I actually missed our encounters. In many ways not having him to talk to each morning and sometimes in the afternoon is a lot like the flock not having B&B guests coming to visit them regularly. I have no way to document it but I have the feeling that most of the flock misses the morning visits.

As we have now done for a couple of years, we made all of our winter hay using large round bales. With the changing climate it is now almost impossible to get a long enough “window” of dry weather to cut, rake, dry and bale our hay using a small baler. In addition it is a physical challenge for the two of us to move those small bales and get them loaded into the barn. We had the cutting and baling done by a young neighbor with the equipment necessary to get it finished quickly. I get the bales moved off the field using spears on the front of one of our tractors. They are stored under tarps on one of the smaller fields near the barn. Here is this year’s harvest all put to bed ready for winter. Hay bales stored under tarpsIt is always a good feeling having that task completed and knowing that we should have enough winter feed for the flock.

Now that it is late August our flock of Barn Swallows has nearly fledged their second brood of chicks. We did not seem to have quite as many swallows nesting in the barn this years as last year, but never the less their numbers were still significant. This morning I counted nearly 40 perched on the roof of the barn, being warmed by the early sun light. In addition there were others in the air above them or flying into the barn to feed their last young in the nest. Young Barn Swallows waiting for breakfastThis crowd is now actually bigger than when the picture was taken and they are out flying with the rest. I would not be surprised when very soon the entire flock suddenly disappears for the year.  It is shortly time for them to head south. They will be missed.



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!

Upcoming Events

* Sheep shearing, early March

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

* The Bed & Breakfast is permanently closed

* Whitefish Bay Farm Gallery is permanently closed;

*Our fiber products are now offered on our Mercantile Page