There's Ivy with her big ewe lamb.
And Jasmine with her little boy.
The first spring flowers are starting to bloom and every time I turn around it seems like another lamb is being born.
There's Ivy with her big ewe lamb.
And Jasmine with her little boy.
The lambs are so sweet and love to be petted. They are also incredibly cute but cause Kristie distress because they follow us instead of her. They twine around our feet every time we go in the pasture, making walking very difficult. And then there's the making of formula, warming bottles, washing bottles - oh, the fun of bottle babies. I really am so glad that spring is here!
Kristie was the first with lambs this year: triplets! She had 2 ram lambs and a little ewe lamb last Tuesday morning. They are all doing fine now despite being what I call "slow starters" - it took them awhile to learn how to nurse given Kristie's cow-like udder and teats. The little girl never got the hang of it so is now a bottle lamb. One of the boys will nurse but needs supplemented with a bottle too. They stick close to mama but already run to me for milk when I walk in their stall.
Even though I'd rather sleep in (or go to bed early,) I find I really don't mind the early morning and late night checks on the pregnant ewes. The ewes are usually lying in their shelter, chewing their cud. Things are quiet; lambs will start arriving any day now. Kristie and Jasmine are looking pretty big; they'll have at least twins, possibly triplets.
I recently had a couple of reminders about why I don't leave the farm much in February & March. Here's Janey, due to lamb next month. I went out to feed the sheep last week and found poor Janey on her back with all four feet in the air, unable to right herself. I quickly rolled her over and helped her get up. After watching her for awhile, I was glad to see she was ok as she could have had some life threatening effects from "turning turtle" - a thankfully fairly rare hazard of late pregnancy in ewes when they somehow wind up on their back and can't get their legs under them to get right side up again.
Then last Saturday, I noticed Ivy didn't want to eat and had separated herself from the flock. I didn't observe any other symptoms but the first thought in late pregnancy is toxemia. I started treating her for that but realized Sunday morning, that with ice & snow forecast for Monday, I'd best have the vet come out just in case I was wrong in my diagnosis. The vet agreed with me, however, and told me to continue the treatment I was giving Ivy. Even though I had been right in guessing pregnancy toxemia, it's always reassuring to get confirmation from the vet.
As we were due to get heavy rains after the freezing weather, it meant I had to move and keep all the sheep under shelter until Wednesday when my shearer was coming. It's not good to shear wet wool! By Wednesday morning all was ready for the shearer to come: sheep in the barn, shearing platform set up,
bags with labels to hold the fleeces, broom to sweep the platform, and a tarp to hold the bags of wool.
It's always great to see Kevin who has been shearing my sheep for 14 years. Kevin Ford: a Master Blade Shearer (using the old timey hand blades) who has been shearing for 40 years, taught many shearing workshops, and represented our country in international shearing competitions. It is a privilege to have him shear my sheep.
Kevin gently rolls the sheep around between his legs as he uses the blades to clip the wool off. It always amazes me to see how the sheep go completely limp as he shears them. There is no noise from electric shearing machines, only the sounds of us quietly talking and the occasional baa from a sheep.
It was nice having the help of these young people with shearing; it takes about 4 people to efficiently move a sheep from the stall to Kevin, to let the newly sheared sheep out, to sweep the platform in between sheep and to put the fleece in a bag with its label.
The sheep have to butt heads a few times as they figure out who these new sheep are; they don't recognize each other without all that wool. People ask me if the sheep get cold after shearing. Unlike electric shears, hand blades leave about an inch of wool on the sheep which keeps them warm. And luckily, in North Carolina, spring is just around the corner.
As Kevin finished up the last sheep, the rest of the flock was happily eating their hay out in the sun, their short wool clean and shining.
It all started with lots and lots of rain, so unusual for the Piedmont of North Carolina in the fall. Then came freakishly warm weather in December, so warm that the pastures greened up as if it was April, so warm that most of the sheep had to be drenched for worms, a very disturbing occurrence. In the 15+ years that I have been raising sheep, I have never had to worry about worms after mid-October. More rain came and a couple of what were (in retrospect) minor floods, but then, with the ground already super saturated from 10" over
our usual rainfall amount, it didn't take long for this to happen with the next rain:
a flood as big as the one we got in 1996 with Hurricane Fran.
Water went where it doesn't normally go.
There was damage to some of the fence lines, unfortunately some of which were just put in last spring.
It was astounding to see the force of the water and how wide the creek was. The water just washed away some of the fence and the rest was pushed down by the force of the debris and the water.
People ask me how much work is involved in raising sheep. I tell them usually just about an hour a day, but then there are things like floods...Six solid days of work cutting wire, pulling fence staples out, using the tractor to help in pulling out the destroyed fencing.
Thank goodness for metal posts that drive in easily with the heavy post driver. And thank goodness for stock panels which make for fast fencing.
The sheep didn't seem to mind being shut up in the small pasture near the barn. Normally they would mostly be eating hay this time of year; it is only the freakishly warm weather that has made the grass out in the big pasture so alluring.
Holden, however, seemed decidedly grumpy about being shut out of his larger territory. He was happy when the fencing was finally repaired.
It's breeding season again and the ram is quite happy to be back out with his ewes. It makes my life a bit more problematic, however, since having the ram out there means I can't just walk out in the pasture without keeping an eye out for him. Even though this guy is pretty easy going, it's a prime fact of shepherding wisdom to "never turn your back on a ram."
Instead of just walking the sheep out to pasture, I let Holden (my Pyr) head out first while I stand behind the gate. The ewes, along with the ram, then follow him out and I come along after awhile to make sure everyone makes it across the creek. I also like to see that Holden is doing a good job of checking out the pasture.
I've put the ewe's coats on to protect their wool these last few months before shearing; the coats keep out most of the weed seeds, burrs and hay. It is amazing how much stuff they can get in their wool!
I appreciate the quieter mornings when I have the time to enjoy these walks across the creek with my sheep. The fall is beautiful this year.
The bravest among them goes through the next gate, and they all start crowding behind to follow down the hill.
Usually, at the bottom of the hill, the lambs start running and soon cross the creek. The lambs haven't developed the caution of the ewes; the pull of all that grass is just too much for them to resist.
The ewes come more slowly, often in single file. All the sheep immediately start grazing, spreading out across the pasture. See short video clips of my morning walk with the sheep on Hidden Spring Farm's facebook page (click on the icon at the upper right of this page.)
I've recently been able to spend five days dyeing wool, seeing how the lustrous locks of my sheep take up the gorgeous colors. The weather has been mostly cooperative - not too hot for spending time over gas cookers but with plenty of sun for drying the wool afterwards.
It was nice sitting out under the big pin oak and maple trees in the front yard, getting up periodically to tend the dye pots. The bees, butterflies and hummingbirds kept me company as they flew among the flowers.
I started out dyeing with the few natural dyes I had on hand. I like natural dyes since they are, of course, natural. However, they require a bit more work as the wool first has to be mordanted before dyeing. The natural red dye was bright but in general I find natural dyes give more muted colors.
I used Greener Shades acid dyes for the first time, happy to have non-toxic dyes (without the heavy metals) that still give the brilliant colors of other acid dyes. My last batch of wool is done and will be dried in the sun tomorrow.
One thing these hot, sunny days are good for is drying wool. I'm starting to wash fleeces in preparation for dyeing and eventual felting and spinning into yarn. The Leicester Longwool fleeces are so gorgeous once all of that red clay is washed out; there is so much shine in each lock I can see why my sheep are called one of the "luster" breeds.
I'm always struck by how different this wool is from the more common breeds of sheep. It's not only beautifully lustrous, it is very strong. Garments made from it can last many years, which might not be something that could be said about some of the very popular, soft wools. Susan Gibbs talks about hard-wearing, long lasting yarns in her blog: http://www.fiberfarm.com/2012/11/the-big-announcement Susan's blog of Nov. 20, 2012 resonated strongly with me since I raise sheep that grow that strong, hard wearing wool for the type of yarn she talks about. I also enjoyed reading about her shearer/friend, Emily Chamelin, who also sheared at our farm one year. She was then traveling with Kevin Ford, the Master Shearer who has sheared our sheep for 13 years.
With the importance of the "eating and buying local" movement, I wonder if more people are becoming concerned about where the fiber for their garments comes from. Most wool apparel is manufactured with fine merino wool from Australian sheep. Global wool production is dominated by that country, as well as New Zealand and China, so lots of our wool yarn and garments are shipped from the other side of the world. And Australia has issues with animal welfare; some major retailers such as Gap Inc, Next and Liz Claiborne choose not to buy wool from the majority of sheep growers in Australia. As people continue to educate themselves on the source of their food and other things they buy, maybe more will look to small and local farms for their fiber also.
The lambs are growing fast; they're weaned now and enjoying all the green grass from the recent rains. They are all very curious, following me around the small pasture they are in.
Summertime farm chores keep us busy with weekly checks of the lambs for worms and biweekly for the ewes, mowing pastures before all those weeds go to seed, trimming everyone's hooves, giving the lambs their first immunizations, filling water troughs - it all gets done. The morning leading of the sheep and Holden out to pasture and shutting them in at night gives a rhythm to my days. Things can become very busy; I try to remember to admire the summertime flowers in my gardens.