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. The 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. I 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. The 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. The 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. Here 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.