Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Pre-Christmas Flurry of Knitting

It's this time of year that I am busily working on Christmas gifts. Last year I didn't finish until May. I hope to avoid that this year, so am choosing to do smallish projects for some special friends. We have the most wonderful people that are part of the large-animal veterinary practice that takes care of our sheep. Doug & I have taken our beasties in to the clinic for several visits, and many of the doctors have come to the farm to help in emergencies. So I am busily spinning yarn from our flock's fleeces. There will be hats from Bacchus, our ram who passed on following an injury, mitts from Arlyss, who had a vaginal prolapse before lambing, and mitts from Blossom, who had pneumonia as a newborn, nearly two years ago. All together, I believe we have seen seven veterinarians in the last year.

As you can imagine, it takes the sheep about a year to grow a fleece, and then after that, processing (washing & carding) can take awhile, too. So here I am. Fortunately, spinning well-prepared fiber which is free of debris (like bits of hay) & neps (second cuts that cause little snarls) goes pretty quickly. I don't mind having a good excuse to spend time at my wheel. The knitting has gone well, for the most part. . . except this afternoon, when I hit a little snag. As I worked on a hat, I thought it might be helpful to be able to try it on for fit. So I went to a two-needle circular method of knitting, and somehow, wound up with this little mess. I will be able to sort it out. I just needed to take a break, have a bite of dinner & regroup.

I did complete a little gift for a dear friend, who is expecting her first grandchild in January. Given Debbie's fondness for ducks, I made this little pattern from We had dinner together on Friday night & I gave her the gift, and asked her to open it before she passed it on to her daughter-in-law. I'm so glad I did. As we enjoyed the evening's festivities after dinner – a walk up the street to take in the annual Figgy Pudding Caroling Contest in downtown Seattle, the bag vanished. It must have happened in the crowd. She doesn't recall setting it down anywhere. . . and I have a photo of her with it. . . so I am guessing that somebody snagged it along the way. I do wish I could have seen the person's face when they opened it. Given the size, they may have expected jewelry or some other small treasure.

Back to my knitting. . . After I finish the Christmas gifts, I will do another pair of duck booties.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stormy Day

On days like today (temps in the 20s, 45 mph sustained winds with 60 mph gusts, wind chill factor 8 degrees) I have so many things to be thankful for. The sheep are healthy & we have plenty of food stocked up for winter. The hay loft is full. We just bought another ton of alfalfa pellets & they're stacked in barn #1. We have running water, even during freezing weather, to both barns. The prevailing winds are coming from the northeast. That's where most of the really bad storms come from. The animals' doors to the stalls in barn #1 (ewes and wethers) are on the south side of the barn, as is the loafing (covered) area. The rams' loafing area is also on the south side of barn #2. So all are well-fed, with adequate water, and all can easily take shelter from the cold & wind. And they will be safe from pretty much anything, save the occasional neighbor's trampoline which has ended up in our pasture, in pieces.

That leaves me and the dog & the cat in the house, warm and safe. Doug is on call tonight, at work until 8 a.m. tomorrow. So far we have power, and all have been fed. Aside from Shaela's anxiety-provoked panting, and Angus' desire to pee outside & not in his cat box, but reluctance to go outside to take care of business, and inability to comprehend that I, the Supreme Being, am unable to change the weather if he were to exit via a different door, we are doing well. The barbecue has blown down the back stairs, but since it is already on the ground, it won't fall down now, so I'm leaving it there. I've turned off the gas supply to it, and at least now I know I don't have to worry about it hurling itself through the back door.

I think I'll spend the night spinning. Cup of tea. And early to bed. Maybe it'll be over when I wake up.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Summer has been a blur. A fun blur, but nevertheless. . .

It all started with preparations for Black Sheep Gathering, which takes place every year in Eugene, Oregon. The sheep need to be in good form for the show, which means a bit of grooming (not too much, though, as they prefer a natural appearance. . . no lip gloss). And it is really helpful to practice what Doug & I now call “Fancy Pageant Walking” so that the beasties are prepared for what they need to do in the show ring. Getting them adjusted to walking on a lead is easier with some, and harder with others (envision very large, fluffy Mexican jumping beans, or, alternately, unresponsive lead weights with legs splayed, flat on the ground). Fortunately, the sheep we chose to show this year were pretty cooperative.

I was determined to finish knitting a shawl for the show, which was made from handspun fiber from my ram, Elmer. Elmer was sheared in March, and BSG was in June. I washed his beautiful brown lamb fleece (which, by the way, won “Best Fleece” at the National CVM/Romeldale show last year, while he was still in the process of growing it), and hand-carded it into tiny little rolags, and spun it into a fine two-ply yarn. I used “Wings of Fantasy” pattern, which kept my interest through the entire project. I had just the right blue/green/lavender matte beads in my stash, to add a bit of interest. So this project went as smoothly as any project possibly could, and I'd have to say it was a success. (Tied for first place at the Spinner's Lead, which is a fashion show with the beasties from which fiber came, in tow.) In the photo, I'm on the left with Elmer, BFF Janice, wearing Anemarie shawl is with Anemarie's son, Malcolm in the middle, and Cindy, from Cindy's Treasures on the right with Tessa.

We were very happy to find a wonderful new ram for our farm at Black Sheep Gathering. He is from Custom Colored Critters in Prineville, Oregon, which has some exceptional beasties. “Eugene” just joined us last weekend, and he will bring some new genetics to our flock. The ewes can hardly wait to meet him.

I was delighted to be able to attend a silk workshop in Port Ludlow, Washington, in July. There were only 45 slots, & I really lucked out to get registered before it filled. It was presented by “Knot Hysteria” and teachers were Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (knitting - “Yarn Harlot”), Judith MacKenzie (spinning goddess, in my book), and Tina from Blue Moon Fiber Arts (dyeing). Really, could a person want a better group of teachers? I was beyond joy to be able to go. The only disappointment was that I got sick. It was worst on the last day of classes & I missed the afternoon of Judith's spinning class. I learned so much about handling silk in its various forms, though, from cocoon, to making hankies, to spinning, dyeing & knitting with it. A little helpful hint – a paste made of olive oil + sugar, rubbed into hands and then washed off, keeps silk from snagging on fingers.

The next weekend was our nephew's wedding, in Yakima. So we had another short road trip, which took us by Mount Rainier. Beautiful, isn't it? (In Washington State, we don't consider them actual “mountains” unless they are covered with snow most of the year and/or erupt periodically.) The wedding was great fun, and the happy bride & groom, who seem to be made for each other, were off to start their new life together in Oregon.

August took us to San Diego to visit Doug's folks. Most of the year they are in Yuma AZ, but they retreat to San Diego for a short break from the hotter-than-hell Yuma summers. That means that we get to go to the San Diego Botannical Gardens, or the Sand Diego Zoo or the Wild Animal Park, and Black Sheep Yarn in Encinitas. We spent some time at the beach, too.

So we are home now, looking forward to Oregon Flock & Fiber in September. And the ewes are beginning to show keen interest in the rams, so the fun will be starting soon. At this point, they are gazing longingly beyond the adjacent pasture. We learned our lesson from some broken fences last year, and have them at greater distance now. By mid-September, though, the fun will begin and we will be hoping for some pretty, healthy lambs come next February.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lambing Olympics!

While others have been watching the Olympics, I have spent quite a bit of time in the barn with my sheeple. It has been a joyful & exuberant (although exhausting) period of time & I wouldn't trade it for the world. We have twelve new lambs – five ewes & seven rams, so far. One ewe, Pebbles, remains to deliver, and I am pretty sure that she is even more eager for that event than I am. It looks like there are at least twins in there. Big ones.

I am very grateful that the weather is so much more mild this year. While other parts of the country are under feet of snow, we are having an early spring. It makes up for last year's biting cold, wind & snow, which lasted way to long for my tastes. We are enjoying our daffodils already, and the little lambs are having a great time romping in the pasture.

I am posting a few photos which I hope you'll enjoy. First is our Anemarie with her newborn Malcolm. This is pretty much how they look at birth. There is a lot of cleaning involved, which Mom takes care of quite diligently, while murmuring to her newborn. It is a touching duet as the little one responds to Mommy with little "Ma-a-a-a-as". I trim the umbilical cord & treat with iodine to prevent infection.

During & after the cleanup period, the lamb stands up, finds teats & takes his first colostrum, a very important ingredient in a healthy lamb. Getting colostrum within the first few hours of life greatly increases the chance for the newborn's survival. After food & cleanup, Mom & lambs settle in together in the lambing jug or pen. They spend the first couple of days there, to have time to get acquainted & bond. This is Christiane with her lambs, Jethro & Keith.

After a couple of days in the lambing jug (pen), Mom & the lambs are ready to join the flock in the pasture. The lambs receive vaccines for Clostridium & Tetanus, and tails are banded. I place polar fleece jackets on the little ones for warmth, and they transition with Mom out to the pasture. The new lambs will take awhile to get acquainted with their flock but they make friends with the other lambs quickly, and within days are having lamb races & romping in the field.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Shearing Day

The girls are getting ready to lamb now, and we decided to shear them a bit earlier than we have done in previous years. Having wool removed will encourage the ladies to spend more time in the barn, and will also make it easier for the new lambies to find the teats when they're ready to eat. The ewes all have coats on, which provide a bit of warmth in addition to keeping fleeces clean.

We were very blessed that our friend, Rocky Long, who owns Little Orchard Farm in Bow WA, was able to come up to shear for us. It was very touching when he recognized one of our older girls, whom he had bottle fed as a lamb. Pebbles is one of the four sheep we bought from Rocky when we first started our little farm. She is now eight years old. Rocky spoke to her in such gentle tones, and he handles all the animals with such care & kindness that I am grateful that he can come up to help with this.

BFF Janice & I spent a lot of time going over fleeces after shearing. I'm a spinner, and I've gotten darned picky about how I like fleeces to be. This year, we separated the blanket (part underneath the coat) from the parts more exposed, which we are calling “seconds”. Those are not second cuts (very short bits that occur when the shearer goes over an area repeatedly) but rather areas that were exposed to more dirt than the covered parts. We carefully & thoroughly skirted each fleece & I'll be selling the seconds at a discounted rate. If you are interested, email me at yvonne(dot)m(at)comcast(dot)net

Smiling Animals

I just have to share a few photos. After having “livestock” (ours are more like pets) I have concluded that animals can smile. At least some of ours do. They have individual personalities (who knew?) and friendships within the flock & with some people.

Here we have Blossom, when she was a wee little lamb living in the house. She was one of triplets last year & was seriously ill with aspiration pneumonia. She spent five weeks recovering, and was adopted by our Boxer, Shaela. We celebrated Blossom's first birthday on shearing day. She is still my little buddy.

This is Teeger, one of our two alpacas. He is a funny, silly boy who likes to cavort around the field.

Here is Cosmo, who seemed very pleased with his many ribbons. His fleece is spectacular.