Spinning, Knitting, Crocheting, Organic Gardening, Living off-grid, and chasing sheep - because- I'm, like, NOT SANE!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

If At First You Don't Succeed....

The secret to life as we know it finishes that title as farming, homesteading, gardening, self-sufficiency, art, fartism - they all require one mantra to keep you sane when you feel like sanity is just NOT.AN.OPTION. anymore- try and try again. Last week, the huscreature and I were discussing those projects that didn't get done last summer, those that need to get done this summer, and how better to manage our time and resources to try to achieve those projects on a budget that is significantly tighter than last year's which is pretty much a theme of every one's life, these days. Still, I was feeling kind of down about the house - a never ending project is building your own home while you live in it. Add to that that we are paying for the house as we go and using lots of recycled materials and you have a constant barrage of many things and none quite yet finished. I've been waiting to paint the living room for a year - need to remove the stairs to the loft first then finish the trim around the window which we were waiting to do until we decided if said beautiful but slightly damaged triple paned picture window would be too much a detriment to energy efficiency and have to be replaced or taken out entirely. Tall as a chicken Then there's the whole process of finishing the wall baseboards and we've delayed that because we're hoping to add another layer of insulation and flooring....yes, I could go on walking you through this maze but I think you get my point - NEVERENDING. It's easy to be hard on yourself, though, and I was definitely there - until the huscreature came up from the barn with a wee one in his hands. Our 'Cloud' has had her first lamb - another ewe. The chickens broke into the barn at feeding time when I went down to take a pic of Cloud's baby and we discovered that Mab had also had this little ewe. I quickly snapped a pic because I want to tell them, one day, when they are trying to jump the fence and gobble my garden - or when they are having lambs of their own - that I knew them when they were just as tall as a chicken. They chased the chickens around and had great fun while their moms were gobbling hay and munching on grain.

Cloud's baby is a little shy - you can see her hiding behind the pallet. A pallet is an indispensable aid to any sheep farmer. We have often celebrated the find of new pallets. They make great lambing pens. The way we construct our lambing pens is very temporary. The new mom and baby only need a day or two together before they are all set and ready to be back with the herd. lambies Sometimes, a new baby can be found touching noses with a baby on the other side - that means they're already friends. On the day we take the pallets down and let mom and baby back in with their herd - the babies take off to play with the lambs while the moms all huddle together and talk over barn politics and neighborhood news over a bale of hay. We always keep a few pallets around inside the barn and outside it because, when leaned securely against the wall, they make a great playground and napping spot for lambs. Lambs love to cuddle up with their moms but, often, during the day we will find them cuddled up with each other behind the pallets. They really enjoy chasing each other so a pallet to duck and hide from the lamb hot on your trail is a favorite trick, too. The little ewe in the front of the top pic is a jewel - and an exciting experiment to boot. But, first, let me say that the camera takes a while to function in the cold. The first few shots are often spooky or just plain funny. Like this psychedelic shot of the lambs. "Whoaaa, what are they putting in our milk, Brigit?" This one made the kids giggle for a ridiculously long time.

very scary eyed herd of mamasThe second pic while the old camera was slowly starting to draw battery power and realizing that, yes, even in the cold we expected it to perform, was of the 'proud mamas' (the rams are off in their own pens because I like to be able to get in with my Mamas and babies alot and don't want to have to worry about rams. Rufus, our head ram, is very good with the lambs - it's more of an issue that he and I have. As he gets older, his previously sweet sort of fanatical following of me has turned into something that feels much more creepy. I'm just not bending over to pick up a lamb with 350 pounds of ram lurking about any time soon, that's all I'm saying about it. The proud mama pic turned out to be the coffee through my nose pic because, as you can see, the flash and red-eye reduction are kind of last to come on board as the camera warms up. We called this pic the 'ghost sheep' pic, though I thought they look much more like aliens than ghosts. Still, terribly funny - unless you're one of the proud mamas and you did your hair and curls special just to look pretty for the camera - I guess that it might not be so funny in that circumstance. Still, our winter hearts are shrunken and small enough to have laughed about it too much.

Hard to believe that those pics of the barn were really once my house. When we first moved here, Rob Roy book in hand, with two wheelbarrows, some bags of concrete, a chainsaw and a few trowels, we spent the summer camping with the kiddos and building this cordwood building with dead fallen trees on the property. It is an experience that I don't want to relive but not because it was a bad one - I just don't know if I could survive it, again. Still, there was something invigorating and insanely satisfying about getting up with the sun, sharing a cuppa with the huscreature, and then going about the competition we had going on to inspire our progress on the house. Toward the heat of August, as the walls began to form, we had contests like, whoever does 4 wheelbarrows before lunch gets double dips on the ice cream and such. It didn't really matter what the prize was - just having something to work that hard for made it less cumbersome to tackle. Of course, with only three months to build it and using, again, as much in the way of recycled materials as we could, and added to the 'cons' of cordwood building like the challenges of insulating properly and the difficulty in lighting such a dark structure, etc. - we eventually came to see that this structure would make a better barn than a home. lambies And, years later, we're pretty darn happy with the barn it makes. You know, try and try again. These two little Cotswold lambs are playing another favorite game on the concrete base (now covered with years of farm dirts and straw) that we, together, only two people, mixed and hand-poured to support the center beam of the structure - the chimney flue that huscreature built. It worked beautifully then and is a great jungle gym for 'king of the mountain' and 'hide and seek' for the lambs, now. On thing I mention, often, when boasting about Cotswolds, is their facial expressions. You can tell which lamb belongs to which ewe by simply looking at their face. 10's lamb, on the top of the mountain, has a dirty face. 10 always has a dirty face. I chalk it up to her tenacious curiosity. If the herd needs something critically investigated - they call 10. Our oldest and wisest ewe. 2's lamb, Brigit, is on the bottom of the mountain - flashy bright eyes and a facial expression that says, "I'm beautiful, smart, and faster than you'll ever be so just choose the obvious route - adore me."

BrigitDon't you just love the expressive faces of Cotswolds? Here's Brigit, again, ready for you to adore her....and you will. No one has resisted the temptation so far so there's really no hope for you, either. She's like her mom - likes her pet behind the ears and, while you're there, you might at well scratch her forehead for her...and you will. I mean, I love the Merinos and Corriedale X's, too - and I'm slowly coming to some sort of relationship with the few remaining Shetlands that we have, though I won't be getting any more - LOL. But my heart remains firmly devoted to the Cotswolds. So, last week when I found myself having to wait for a few minutes in a book store, I perused the farming books and garden books because, well, the knitting books were too much a temptation and I'd already splurged on a cup of coffee so I was hoping to be good. I found a few books on sheep and one, in particular, that seemed to showcase the beauty of heritage breeds. So, you can imagine the heated boil I nearly came to when a terse and all too common description for Cotswold simply stated that the wool was not so great and the animal better used for cross breeding than anything else. Huh! I got so mad I put it back on the shelf backwards - a childish rebellion that I couldn't live with further than three paces away when I turned around, righted it on the shelf, and pointed at it and said, 'Shame on you'. The gentleman who was sitting over in the 'psychiatry' section happened to be walking out with his three books on the workings of the female mind at the time (yes, I'm a voyeur so I looked at his titles while he was reading them) and my talking to the book with such an admonishing tone seemed to verify whatever research he was conducting and he winked at me, nodded his head in that polite way that says, "It's okay that you're a crazy woman because, hey, look at my book selection, I love crazy women," and walked on. Urgh!

It happens more than I'd like to even think about. Wool book after wool book with just plain dog the longwool breeds. I mean, I'm not here to say they are anywhere as soft as merino, and they certainly aren't perfect for every kind of yarn - but they are all beautiful and wonderful to work with and I just don't think they get a fair presentation in most discussions on wool production. Which is soooo odd as, a peek at Cotswold history will clearly describe that they were considered, in their time, a 'golden fleece'. There's also quality production to be considered. If you've ever tried to process a really badly grown merino fleece, you know what I'm talking about. Any wool grown to be worthless, can certainly end up that way. The shepherd who selects Cotswolds doesn't do so for efficiency. They grow slowly - reaching full maturity after two years. They are large and good eaters but they are also a greater expenditure for the shepherd. For instance, we shear twice a year. The shorter staple and 6 month old fleece is infinitely softer and more beautiful than the 12 month fleece. That isn't a problem for us because we do our own shearing. But, if we were having to pay a shearer - it would double the cost of shearing each year...which, added to the extra hay to feed such a large animal, and the MANY FREAKING BOOKS THAT SAY SILLY THINGS ABOUT LONGWOOL and it almost seems like public perception and politics are more to blame for this breed coming so close to extinction than the actual quality of the wool and beauty of the breed.

CorrinoWoldHaving said that, I'm not a staunch purebred person, either. I appreciate the breed and have adopted, as part of my own personal mission with being a shepherd, continuing to breed a portion of my flock for purebred Cotswolds. My rams and ewes are papered, though I've not papered the babes and don't know if I will. But, the try and try again beast rears it's ugly head when I think of sticking my feet in the sinking mud of being a purist at anything. It just doesn't appeal to me. And, cross-breeding has resulted in the production of some pretty fabulous wool breeds. Pat Coleby, in "Natural Sheep Care" goes into some pretty fascinating discussion of breeding and cross-breeding. Polwarth is produced by crossing Merino ewes over a Lincoln ram and then using a Merino ram to breed the resulting ewes in the following season. Longwool breeds tend to improve, IMHO, the luster, strength, and character of Merino fleece. Corriedale is another breed that resulted from such a cross - Leicesters/Lincolns/Merinos crossed over one another. So, our experimenting began last year and sort of by accident when one of the shetlands bullied her way through the wrong fence and found our young Cotswold ram, "Rammerkins" on the other side of it. We're eagerly awaiting the spring fleeces from the resulting 'Shotwold' lambs and, depending on how that goes, we may experiment with that mix further. The more intentional experiment is the little ewe you see here. Her mom is a Corriedale/Merino cross bred to our Rufus. We're calling her a Corrinowold - snork. Her aunt was the first round of crossing last year and she won't be ready to be bred back to the Merino ram until next season - so we're in the midst of the experiment but, so far, the corrie/merino/cotswold fleece is Gawwwwjeous! Our round of lambs with this cross last year were all a deep chocolate brown but this little ewe, as you can see, is very much like her Cotswold father. CorrinoWold I can't get over the facial expression - and how it tends to follow this breed wherever they go. We distracted her mom with feeding so we could pick her up and look her over to make sure she's doing okay, check the cord, etc. You can see how strong and robust she is in the pic at the top of the paragraph, crying out, "Mama, don't fall for the grain bait - they're going to touch me and I'll smell like yucky human after that - puuuulease!". But, mom fell right for the bait and switch and huscreature brought her over to me, both of us laughing at the little bit of Cotswold that resulted in a whole lotta facial expression.

You can see, here, that she is rather unimpressed with myself and the camera. You can also see the handy fix of the rip in the finger of huscreature's favorite leather gloves - blessed be duct tape! LOL. I could tell, immediately, that she is her mother's daughter. CorrinoWold Mab is a strong ewe and I absolutely adore her. She's very private, though, and doesn't like to be fussed over. If you want to show her you love her, pick her some fresh grass and feed it to her out of your hand. She's not into the petting - she's a practical chic. Her little lamb is very much the same. The 'big friggin' deal, you have a shiny lighty box' look on her face is priceless. But, even cuter still was the answer I got when I cooed at her and said, "C'mon, give me a pretty face for your baby book." I think it says, 'go stick your head in a toilet' but it could be something more like,' get away from me you freak'. What do you think?