Saturday, August 29, 2009

Welcome César and Katarina

Today we went to the Animal Rescue League to pick up two new farm members. We only found out about Katarina yesterday, when we already knew we were going to pick up César, so I'll start with her.
She is a particularly lovely female Muscovy duck. She was picked up by animal control and taken to the shelter for adoption. We were happy to introduce her to our flock. She was immediately the sole focus of our drakes, Disston and Valdez. They both waggled their tails around and did lots of neck contortions trying to impress her. She remained aloof and undecided. Here she is with Disston to the left and Valdez to the right, and then Latté (Valdez's favourite girl) to the far right.We shall see who wins her heart with time! Today, she spent time wandering around the yard and exploring the opportunities. She sampled the lawn, and surely some of the local insect life, and she met with the other ducks too. She seems to be settling in well and was comfortably resting in the shade of a tree with a small group of other ducks later this afternoon.

The primary reason for our trip was to pick up César. His previous name was "Smokey Spots" but Kelly has naming rights for all the male animals on the farm, and he felt that a new name was needed for a new life. César was "rescued" from an animal hoarder - someone who just couldn't deal with the animals they had. We adopted him because he is a new guardian for our sheep. He is about 200 lbs, so the smallest of any of our llamas in height and stature. By the way, it's pronounced "Say-zhar" with the emphasis on the "Zhar" part (and not See-zer like the salad or the Roman dude).
He may well have the most beautiful face and ears of any of our llamas. He has wonderful facial expressions and really is very handsome.
He hadn't been sheared this year, and we wanted to start him out with a fresh fleece for next year. Fall is coming in the relatively near future though, so we left a good inch or so on him so that he will have plenty of time to grow in a full coat for winter. His coat was kind of dirty and ragged on the surface, but underneath it is wonderfully soft and ranges from dark brown through pale grey.
You all know, from previous llama blog posts, that I am not the world's best shearer. Quite the contrary. And to be honest, César is not exactly thrilled about being sheared, although he did really well for it being his first day and not really knowing us and everything else that was around him.

It took some time, and some space, and afterwards, it looked like a small llama explosion, as usual. This was compounded by the fact that he didn't really want to stand in one spot, thus leaving a trail of llama bits across the yard.
Oh dear. I really must work on my shearing!
I do believe he will be more comfortable in the remaining heat of summer, and all the nasty poky bits of hay and other twigs and things are gone from his coat. Even if he does look a bit pathetic now, I hope he is cooler. We also wanted to have a good look at his condition and see if he was skinny or if he had any unusual lumps and bumps or anything else we should be concerned about. He was in surprisingly good condition and felt perhaps a little on the light side, but not skinny by any means. There were no bald patches or lumps or any other worrisome conditions. He did give me a very thorough kick in the arm to advise me that he did not appreciate having his belly touched, so I didn't get the matted bits of his coat under there, for personal safety reasons! They will work themselves off in time.

Then, it was time for him to meet his new companions and his "herd" that he is destined to protect.
He wasn't entirely sure about that, and neither were the sheep.
Given a few days, I think they'll end up doing just fine together. We are so glad to have given César his forever home.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Another Day, Another Escape

We interrupt your regular Iowa State Fair Programming (yes, even though the fair is over, I'm not finished blogging about it!!) to bring you news of another escape at Whispering Acres.

I drove home today through absolute clouds of dragonflies. Never in my life have I seen such tremendous numbers of dragonflies. I'm not talking about 5 or 6 crossing my path. I'm talking about hundreds and hundreds of them. In particular, as I drove home along the gravel road that goes to my house (about 2 miles worth), there were just so many I could barely believe my eyes. Do dragonflies swarm? They were flying low over the road, high over the road, into my car, around my car....everywhere. It was truly bizarre. There were a lot of birds around too, gorging themselves on the dragonflies.

I got home and decided to go out on the back porch, risking being buzzed by dragonflies, so that I could take some pictures of them. They were all on the move, so all the pictures I got are "in passing," but the fact that I could sit on the steps and actually take pictures of passing dragonflies should tell you how many there were! Not the greatest pictures - they move fast! I had to shoot, crop and enlarge, but still, they are definitely dragonflies!

During my dragonfly mania, I glanced over at the approaching chickens, ducks and geese, who clearly thought it was my duty to feed them at that particular time...(so I did)...

...and then I glanced over at the sheep, who.....WAIT A SECOND!!!
Even after a long day of school and work, I can still determine that sheep who are located OUTSIDE of the fenced area are a significant deviation from normal operating protocols. A rapid grain-administration protocol was immediately required. Sheep are so gullible sometimes.
Whew! Disaster averted!!

Miss Marshmallow says: Why don't they all just come when you call them, like I do?
(see how much bigger she is than her brother (to her right))
All sheep safely contained. Breathe deeply....

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Iowa State Fair, Day Four, Part One

Wait....wait!!! What happened to Day Three?

Sigh, I'm a terrible blogger, I didn't take my camera for day three. Day three was actually last Sunday, the 16th, and I was at the fair from 9 am to 4 pm. Why? Because I was doing demonstration spinning on my wheel. I was part of a group of spinners, joined by a group of knitters. We were in the sheep barn all day, spinning and knitting. The spinners were provided with donated roving, and the knitters took our spun yarn and made it into hats for a local charity. It was a full sheep-to-yarn-to-hat cycle. Unfortunately, you'll just have to imagine it in your mind because I have no photographic evidence!

That was not the case, for today! Oh, where to begin?! Well, we started out at the llama show. Here's one of my favourite contestants - what a lovely colour fleece!
There was a tremendous variety in the colours and sizes and styles of llamas in the showmanship contest.
What's this? A llama with a blue eye!! I had never seen anything like it!
I'm not sure if she is blind in that eye and the pigment loss is a result, but she was certainly arrestingly beautiful! She also helped her owner win the showmanship contest!
Llamas have such beautiful faces - I love how they are all different in their expressions.
Here's the lovely girl with the blue eye - when she was announced as the winner of the showmanship category, they also announced that she is very pregnant. It's quite difficult to tell when llamas are pregnant, but because of the close shearing on this one, it is more apparent than usual. They don't get wider really, but they do get "deeper" through the back end, with a little added roundness.
Another lovely brown and white girl. Compare her silhouette in her hind quarters with the one above and you can really see the difference.
And one of my favourites again - an appaloosa. This one doesn't have as much brown as I would favour though. The lady to the right int he pink striped shirt was the judge. I think this one might be pregnant too.
The proceedings were watched with significant interest by another "guest" visitor. That enormous horse on the other side of that very tall wall is a Clydesdale. He was HUGE! And he kept peeking at the llama show throughout its course. I thought it was quite funny.
Eventually we moved on to the building that houses the baby animal displays. Of course there were baby chicks, but we have those at home, so I didn't take pictures of them. I did take pictures of the ducklings, who had a nice set-up that we might duplicate one day.
We saw a calf born just a few days ago, with its mother.
We saw lambs (but not as cute as Ms. Marshmallow).
We saw goat kids!

And then we saw....wait a second....what on earth?
Baby ostriches! Wow! That was a new thing for both of us! Little puffballs on long legs, with really big toes!Of course, we couldn't miss the rabbit show. This interesting breed of rabbit is called a Champagne D'Argent (which means silver champagne in French). They are born solid black, and in their first months of life, they slowly transition to that lovely silvery grey colour that you see here. The last place to change colour is the spot behind and between the ears.
This was a prize winning angora rabbit. What lovely fur she has for spinning!
This was the biggest rabbit at the fair - a Flemish giant. What a lovely purple ribbon he won!
And this rabbit is feeling roughly equivalent to what I am feeling after today. I have a lot more pictures to share, but I'm afraid they'll have to wait until tomorrow. Zzzz.....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jacob Lambs: I have questions! Do you have answers?

We acquired our two Jacob ewe lambs in early spring. They are our first Jacob sheep and were actually our first lambs on the farm. They initially went in with the goats but they got butted and shoved around a lot, so we eventually transferred them in with the sheep. They still got butted and shoved around a lot, so they ended up in a smaller size pen with our small angora goat who is relatively timid, and our Nubian with her baby who was born in late May. In there, they held their own and have done well, although they seem to have grown very slowly. I think it's possible they were separated from their moms too early, but we didn't know much back then and the seller seemed to think it was fine. We were taken in by their sweet little faces.
So, yesterday we decided to put them back in with the rest of the sheep. They had gained some size and were doing well, so we thought it was time. When I picked up Penguin, I realized she had some clumpy bits of fleece around her head so I went to brush them away, and I realized her fleece was ready to roo. (For my non-sheepy readers, rooing a sheep is essentially shearing it by pulling out the fleece by hand rather than cutting it - only some breeds of sheep naturally lose their fleece like this). So, I rooed her, and she looked much smaller. Her friend Pennyroyal has also begun to roo, but not as much, so I did not get as much fleece out of her.
Here's the aftermath. Looks like a little fleece explosion, doesn't it?
So I have a few questions now:
1) Is it normal for Jacob lambs to roo at about 6 months of age?
2) If the answer to 1 is "no," then can anyone suggest why this might be happening and what I should do about it?
3) Is it normal for Jacob lambs to weigh only about 35-40 lbs at 6 months of age?
4) If the answer to 2 is "no" then what should we do?
5) Will they now grow in a winter fleece and will it roo in the spring or will we need to shear them?

When I was trying to roo Pennyroyal, I noticed that her second horn buds have developed into these little curls. They are relatively loose, which I think makes they qualify as scurs. Am I right about that? If yes, should we try to remove them or will they fall off by themselves. The only reason I'm concerned is because of the curl diameter - I don't want them to grow into her head.
I gave them a belly rub post rooing, just for good luck.
Of course, I never kiss my sheep on the lips. What do you think I am - crazy?
You can see that Pennyroyal is much fleecier than Penguin now. I think her fleece will come out too though, because it has started to do so. Their little black bottoms are soooo cute!
They seem to be OK with the other sheep although they are still getting pushed around a bit. I will give it a week or so and see if they adapt. I just worry because they seem so small. Here, for example, is Penguin (born in February) next to Cream Puff (Poppy's ewe lamb born in May).
Not that Poppy is that big herself, so Cream Puff is doing fabulously well. They both look grand to me!
Sven says "I'm still the most beautiful sheep on the farm." Of course you are Sven!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Iowa State Fair: Day Two

The State Fair opened on a Thursday. That was my "Day One" post. You might have thought we'd had enough....but no, we hadn't! Back we went for Day Two, Friday at the Fair! So what was so important that we had to go back for the second day in a row? Oh....need you even ask? MORE SHEEP!!!

Seriously, the Lincoln Longwool sheep show was on Friday morning, and there was no way I was going to miss that one. Longwool sheep have beautiful fleeces, and as a spinner, I needed my "fix" of beautiful sheep. Not that there was anything wrong with the Corriedale and Rambouillet of Thursday - they were beautiful in their own right. But, not beautiful like this!
Oh the curls....the sweet, soft, precious curls. I cannot resist these sheep! I just adore both the white and natural coloured versions!
Lincoln Longwool sheep are the native sheep of Lincolnshire, which is located on the east coast of England. The breed had a strong following in Canada at the end of the 18th century, when it began to be imported to the North American continent. It is one of the largest breeds of sheep, with rams weighing up to 350 lbs! However, it's also a fairly calm and well-behaved breed, so easy to manage. The ewes often only have single lambs, unlike our Icelandic flock, which is known for multiple births.

We also took in the Columbia sheep show.
Not our favourite breed, but still nice sheep. The rams can weigh 300 plus pounds, and the ewes up to 225. We arent' that excited about huge sheep.
They do produce a lot of wool - up to 16 lbs in a shearing. But, they also have high grease, so that the fleece only yields about 50% of its weight after cleaning. Columbia sheep came from Rambouillet and Lincoln cross breeding programs started by the USDA in 1912. Really though, this man holding this sheep is not incredibly short. He's a bit shorter than me, but I'm 5 foot 10, so he's not THAT short. The sheep is just huge! I goes up to his CHIN for goodness sake! That is a massive sheep!
They do come in black, which makes for lovely fleece...
We had intended to go to a talk about growing grapes in Iowa, but to be honest, both Kelly and I were really tired and kind of dragging after lunch. We decided to call it a day and head for home.

Today, Saturday, we had thought we might go to see the sheep shearing competition, but then we decided that we can see sheep shearing at home every year now, and we'd save that for another time. Tomorrow I will be at the fair from 9 am to 3 pm, doing spinning demonstration on my wheel. We will have wool roving supplied for spinning, and then as we spin, the yarn is provided to knitters, who will knit hats for charity. It's a sheep-to-roving-to-yarn-to-garment sort of event, and I'm pleased to be a part of it.

Next week, we plan on attending the llama show, the dairy goat show, and the angora goat show! Those will be next weekend, so watch for posts on those if you are enjoying the fair posts!

Oh, one more thing. all know me by now....I have this little problem when it comes to beautiful fleeces. This little sort of addiction thing. It's quite harmless really - nothing like tobacco or gambling or crack! Although, the pull is quite irresistible....see the delightful lady to the far right? She was selling fleeces from her prize-winning flock. Oh the temptation....
I managed to restrain myself. One Lincoln fleece and one Corriedale fleece. The Corriedale is jet black, even though the flash makes it look a little grey. It's going to be a beautiful spinning fleece.
But the Lincoln. It nearly makes me pass out to touch it. I bought the 3rd place winning fleece at the fair wool show (which was on Thursday night, which we could not attend). The only reason it came in 3rd is because there is some vegetative matter in the fleece. That means some little bits of hay. It's next to nothing, but it was enough to put it into 3rd place, which in my opinion is a tragedy, because this fleece is like liquid silver.
It ranges from deep, dark grey through light silvery grey, through white. No picture can do this fleece justice. It is just incredible. I am thrilled to have it, and will be even more thrilled to spin it. The fact that I was able to buy it, nearly made me swoon. Pardon me, I have to go touch my fleece again...