Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Good things come in....nines?

Finally!  I can take a few moments from studying and other tasks to talk about the great excitement that has descended upon Whispering Acres in the past two days.  Well, probably a couple of weeks, but it has come to a peak in the past two days.  What could possibly generate excitement here?  Oh come on, if you're a reader, you know by now...


Last night, we were the excited recipients of a personal delivery.  Shortly after dark, there was a truck pulling a trailer that came into the driveway, causing me much delight!.

What have we here?!

Some of you might recognize the ears on these critters...

Yes indeed, they are Blue-faced Leicester (BFL) sheep.  All NINE of them!  Can you tell that I'm beside myself with excitement?

Quite recently, Carol of Zephyr Sheep Farm in Indiana decided to move on to a new phase in her life.  A sheepless phase.  I'm not sure how she's going to like being without sheep, but she has made her decision and it's the right one for her at this time.  As a result, she was selling her flock of 9 beautiful, friendly, and remarkably adaptable BFL sheep.  I decided to buy her entire flock.  Here's Carol unloading Black Pearl, a stunning natural coloured ewe.

They are a new breed for us, but their fleeces are just beautiful and make wonderful spinning yarns.  In addition, there are not many BFL flocks in Iowa, so we may be able to share their superb genetics with some sheep enthusiasts here in our state.

Carol and her flock arrived in a cold, heavy rain last night, after dark.  We decided to leave the sheep in the trailer for the night with hay and water, rather than trying to move them through the quagmire of our barnyard in the rain and the dark, risking losing one and having to chase a scared and disoriented sheep in the dark.  I think it was a good plan.  Here's Cragganmore the ram, being greeted by our Icelandic ram lamb, Rocky.

We moved the ewes this morning into the pasture with our llamas.  The llamas gave them a sniff and then essentially ignored them.  A couple of hours later, the sheep had firmly established "ownership" of the barn and the llamas were lying down outside the barn in the pasture. 

We have 7 ewes and 2 rams, several of which are already natural coloured (i.e. black/grey) and some of which carry the genetics for producing coloured offspring.  We are also thrilled with the beautiful white fleeces of the others, which will take dye beautifully and will produce warm, lofty yarns.  I can't wait for shearing time!  But, before that, we will be having lambs!  Yes, all 7 ewes are due in either February or early March.  Here's the other ram, Craigsley (this year's lamb) greeting our ram lambs.

Thanksgiving Day on Whispering Acres will be spent doing a huge barn clean-up and building lambing pens.  We'd rather do it now while the weather is comparatively warm, rather than waiting until January.  Brrrrr!!!  We want to ensure these lambs are born inside, rather than outside in the cold of an Iowa February.  It's quite possible that some of the ewes will have twins, or possibly even triplets, so we are very excited to share their stories with you in the coming months.

Today's pictures simply do not do justice to these gorgeous animals.  The sky was dreary, the ground is wet and slippery, and the poor sheep were in a new place with unknown companions.  In the coming weeks, I will be posting more pictures of them as we progress in farm building projects and clean up.  For now, please join me in welcoming the New Nine to the farm.  The ewes are Leslie, Sloan, Corsica, Alystyne, Assyria, Paisley and Black Pearl.  The rams are Craigsley and Cragganmore.  All are registered Blue-faced Leicesters that we are very proud and pleased to call our own. 

Thank you Carol, for making your beautiful flock available to us!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Two Shears to the Wind

Today I sheared our two Icelandic ram lambs that I intend to use for breeding this year - Sven and Rocky.  Icelandic sheep can be sheared twice a year, so I decided it was time.  In particular, I noted that they both had some felting to their fleece, because they both have a tendency to stand around in the rain.  In summer, warm rain + moving sheep = fleece becoming felted.  Grumble.  So, I sheared them today and had to discard their fleeces for any use other than chicken coop insulation.  Can you figure out which two were sheared?!

Here's Sven, the grey coloured ram on the right in the picture above, just before shearing!  What a change in colour!  He really lost any of the brown tips - he was born jet black.  I think the tips were sun bleached and under all that, he is probably spotted, so he looks grey.  I didn't shear to the skin like we would in the spring because I wanted some warmth left on them.  Sven was clearly not impressed because, at one point, he proceeded to urinate copiously all down my leg.  Unfortunately, I had him in an excellent position on my lap for shearing difficult parts, so I had to put up with this indelicate behaviour.

I had been under the impression that Rocky, the white lamb with the black eye patches, was at a lower weight than Sven.

Having sheared them, I determined this was not in fact the case.  I'm a little concerned about Sven, in fact, and need to give him more grain immediately to bulk him up a little bit.  A sheep in full fleece can look deceivingly "plump" when in fact they are not.  This is one of those things I have learned in the past year or so of owning sheep.  I also learned today that it might not be a good idea to shear when it is very windy out, since it has a habit of blowing bits of fleece into your eyes.

So who is that handsome ram in the picture above, looking huge and imposing next to poor little Sven?  Well, he's our very first Shetland sheep, named Ferdinand (Ferdie for short).  Ferdie came from Crosswinds Farm and is going to be wethered in the near future.  We acquired him because he has an absolutely gorgeous and crimpy fleece, and he will make a good wether companion for our rams.  He's also our very first all black sheep!  The black sheep of the family!  Hahaha!  He's extremely friendly and approachable and has a lovely habit of wagging his tail very enthusiastically when he is getting a chest rub in just the right spot.  Sometimes I think he is part dog!  I can't believe how big he is compared to our ram lambs - they are all from this year!

In the picture below, the other larger ram lamb who is all white is Marshmallow's brother.  He is also growing well and quickly too! 

Ferdie, and all our other sheep, won't be sheared until spring now.  I can't wait to see how some of the fleeces turn out from this year's lambs.

In other news, Lotus and Opal now have bright green bottoms.

If this comment makes no sense to you, you probably need to read this post.  I created a spreadsheet today giving projected due dates, as well as dates for vaccinations for our goatie girls.  Three of four should be bred now, according to their colour!

Kelly and I spent a good portion of today building an enclosed chick rearing area in the barn.  We'd had enough of chicks in the basement and it was time to construct something more permanent for their care.  I'm really pleased with how it turned out, but it was too dark for pictures.  Another time...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fun silly questions at lunchtime

It's my lunch hour and I'm not actually taking an hour - more like 10 minutes, but I read Isobelle the Beautiful Goat's question post and thought it looked like fun, so I'm doing it too.  Here we go!!

1. Where is your cell phone? at home, being charged, for the first time in weeks.  I never use the silly thing.
2. Favorite type of pickle? gherkins
3. Your mother? The best you can imagine.
4. Your father? Also the best you can imagine.
5. Your worst fear? Flying.  Oh, and failing at things.  And being deathly ill.
6. Do You Have Any Siblings? No
7. Favorite drink? Depends on the occasion.  Vanilla Latte, pink grapefruit juice, Riesling, but not all at once.
8. Goal?  Many.  Possibly too many.
9. Favorite type of nut? Pecans.
10. Hobbies?  Sheep, goats, spinning, felting, gardening, knitting...etc.
11. Dreams? I rarely remember them and usually they're about work.
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years?  Wherever I'm happy.
13. Favorite type of apple? Granny Smith or Pink Lady.  Tart and crisp.

14. Attended a High-School Reunion? No
15. From the bakery? Almond tarts.
16. Pizza crust? thin
17. Favorite color? green
18. Do you volunteer? Not much right now, no time with school and work and farm, but when school is finished, probably with Heartland Greyhound Adoption again.
19. Cellphone carrier? Verizon
20. Favorite ice cream flavor? Coconut sesame brittle (Haagen dasz)
21. Pets? 1 greyhound, 8 goats, 2 mini donkeys, 5 llamas, 14 sheep, lots of chickens and ducks, 4 angora rabbits.
22. Did you get a flu shot? no
23. Favorite bread? Chewy and dense with a crisp crust.
24. Favorite scent? Lavender (real, not fake lavender scent)
25. Favorite word? viticulture.  I just like how it sounds.
26. Your best friend? My stuffed kangaroo, Lurvig.
27. Where did you grow up? Halifax, Nova Scotia
28. Wish list item? a larger acreage with a larger barn and more fencing.
29. Have you ever received a bailout from the federal gov't? Nope It would be nice though!
30. Which mayonnaise? Baconnaise
31. Year of your vehicle? 2002
32. Are you a card player? Solitaire on the computer, occasionally.
33. Favorite magazine? Fine Gardening, Fine Cooking, The Atlantic, Spin-Off, The English Garden, Interweave Knits, Horticulture, Mother Earth, oh dear...that was more than one wasn't it...
34. Favorite dessert? One my mother makes with thin layers of meringue interlaid with a mocha sort of buttercream frosting stuff and it has almonds in it.  Oooooh it's deeeelish!!
35. Favorite store? Ikea.  But we don't have one here.  :-(

Right, back to work!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Green Goats Gallivanting

Today, we put our angora buck, Valentino, in with the goat girls. We decided that, in the interest of having more fiber-producing animals, using Val would result in either Pygora or Nigora goats, depending on whether he bred our Pygmy or Nigerian dwarf girls. In addition, we have a mini-Nubian girl. I'm not sure what that would be - a Minugora?

Anyway, I had purchased a marking harness earlier this year which can be used on buck goats and also on rams, so that we can tell which goats (or sheep) are cycling, and whether they have been successfully bred. The sheep and goat cycle is about 3 weeks. The harness is engineered to hold a block of coloured waxy marking substance. When the buck or ram mounts their chosen one, they will leave a coloured mark on the rear quarters of the female. If the breeding is successful, then the next cycle, that doe or ewe should not be marked, because she would not be cycling, so the buck or ram would not mount her. This way, we can also have good estimates on who is likely to give birth on what date.

Val is a little small compared to the harness size, but he gamely agreed to wear it without much trouble. I had to really shorten the straps and ensure he was not going to pull it off by rubbing on a fence post. After he was dressed up in his harness, we introduced him to his harem - one pygmy, one mini-Nubian, and two Nigerian dwarf does. That's Puffin the Pygmy in the back, Coffee the mini-Nubian beside her, and then Lotus lying down in the sun, and Opal behind her. Lotus and Opal are the Nigerian dwarf goats.
Val was clearly impressed as he stood there surveying his new surroundings.

Some hours later, I ventured outside to see how he was getting along with the girls. It was quite clear, one of our girls (Coffee) was cycling. And here is where Val insisted that he take over the writing of this blog post. It's all up to you Val....

Valentino here.
Nice of Claire to let me blog today. I heard from her that there's a really beautiful goat named Isobelle who has her very own blog. I think I should have one too, but at least I get my chance to talk today.

(Hey Isobelle Honey, if you're listening baby, I am carrying a torch for you my love. Please send peppermints. See, my eyes are begging you. I so wish I could meet you.)
I know, you were thinking that "Green Goats" was something to do with the environment, weren't you? Environmentally friendly goats, helping fertilize the garden. Yeah yeah, I know, we do that too. But today, really, the post is about truly green goats. Claire somehow saw fit to put green marking wax in my harness. Yeah, what the...errr...what was she thinkin'? But I'm here to tell all you bucks, it ain't no big deal. The girls will still love you, know what I'm sayin'?

Here, check this out. I'll show you how it's done.
Hey baby, you with the green butt!
Are you talking to meeee?

You betcha! How YOU doin'? You got it going ON baby girl. But I'm tellin' you baby, you got some green on your butt. Maybe you sat in some hay or somethin'? You know, I can help you with that.

I got green on my...what...oh my goodness, how embarrassing...

It's no problem honey bear. You just come on down here and let Val figure this out for ya.
Thanks Val, I really appreciate....wait....what are you sniffing....what. are you....OH!

No worries babycakes, I got ya covered.
Ooooh, you naughty boy!! I'm telling the girls what you're up to! That's the second time you've done that to me today!

See fellas, that's how it's done. Take it from me. The girls these days think green is irresistible. I'll let you go try it for yourselves now. Keep up the good work boys.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kelly is a Weaver!!

I thought it would be appropriate to do a blog post about Kelly's efforts on our loom. We bought the loom in a very round-about way from a blog friend in Colorado. She hasn't blogged lately, but she is the voice behind Yellow Jacket Ridge Angora Ranch. She had a Rasmussen table loom with a stand that she'd been storing for a while and hadn't used. I bought it from her, and she took it from Steamboat Springs up to Denver. A friend of mine in Denver, who works for my employer, and who travels back and forth to Des Moines, brought it to me in his mini-van.

Soooo, it sat, and it sat, and it sat. In the basement. Gathering a little dust. Not because I didn't want to be using it, but with full time work, part time school, and the farm, I simply didn't have time to learn how to use it. Kelly likes to watch TV in the basement (I don't watch much TV) so he would sit down there learning how to use the loom while watching TV.
One day, I heard the loom making noises, and ventured downstairs to find he was well underway. He still has a lot to learn (so he says) but the book that we bought at the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival really helped him figure out the workings of our loom. He has already made this lovely table runner!! I am so excited by the possibilities of our loom. I'm hoping that Kelly can use my handspun yarn to make new and different mats and other items, and eventually perhaps he will make me an evening shawl.
These colours aren't necessarily our favourites. The loom was already threaded with the warp threads, so Kelly decided that he might as well use them for learning purposes. He wants to learn how to re-thread the loom with colours that are more to our choice.

A couple of odd spots happened on the back of his first project. Can anyone with some experience in weaving say what happened here?
It's as if some threads were missed, but the top side looks completely normal. We can't figure it out. Any suggestions would be welcome!!