Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival

Believe it or not, it was almost 2 weeks ago. The Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival. Shame on me for not having blogged about it more quickly, but seriously, this time of year seems to be incredibly busy. I have classes 3 days a week (Monday through Wednesday) that result in me only being at work for 4 hours a day. I study Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights. Then, I desperately try to catch up at work on Thursday and Friday. The weekends are a blur of housework, laundry, studying, feeding farm critters, and the usual errands. It's just madness.

Anyway, all the madness was put aside on September 11-13 because Kelly and I went to Jefferson, Wisconsin. We had 3 marvelous days at the Sheep and Wool Festival. It was a fabulous show. On Friday, we spent the entire day in classes called "Sheep 101." This was a full day seminar on sheep care and management. I think we learned more in that one day than we have in the entire past 9 months (or so) of having sheep. We did classes on nutrition, parasite management, wool marketing, conformation, shearing, lambing, you name it, we did it! Here is one of our instructors showing how to put a sheep on its bottom for shearing or hoof work.
The various instructors through the day were tremendously helpful, willing to answer any question, and really interested in helping people learn. I was really impressed by their enthusiasm and their dedication to the sheep industry and to helping new shepherds learn the ropes.

We were able to see lambs that were newborns, specifically bred in time for the show, so that they could demonstrate tasks such as ear tagging, castration, clipping the umbilical cord, etc.
On Saturday and Sunday, I did classes in learning to spin the Icelandic fleece (very useful since we have Icelandics) and also in plying techniques. We spent time looking at everything the many vendors had to offer, and making some exciting purchases. We spent a lot of time looking at sheep, especially Blue Faced Leicesters, Shetlands, and Corriedales. We deliberated our farm needs and wants, and thought about the future of our flock. We learned more about different breeds and their behaviours and characteristics. Kelly attended some other events while I was in classes, such as sheepdog trials and shearing demonstrations.

There were many breeds featured at the show, including:
Katadhin hair sheep...
...Polled Dorsets...
...really adorable Shetlands...
...Lincolns with beautiful curly fleeces...
...and even Clun Forest sheep, which are relatively rare.
Truly, it was a valuable weekend and we learned a great deal. We also got to meet a number of online friends, including some folks from the Ravelry website of which I am a member, and also some folks from blogs that I list. We met up with Corinne from Crosswinds Farm, as well as Carol from Zephyr Sheep Farm.

Here is one of Carol's beautiful and oh-so-friendly Blue Faced Leicesters. They were such well mannered sheep!
Here are a couple of beautiful black Shetland sheep that I really wanted to abduct.

And a whole gaggle of Shetland ewes who stole my heart...
Sadly, I had to console myself with the mere fact that I made significant progress on my very first knitted sock, since I was unable to purchase any sheep. We didn't take the livestock trailer...sort of deliberately....because Kelly knows I am weak willed around sheep. I did buy some lovely yarn and roving for spinning, though. Here's the sock, for anyone who wants to keep track of my first knitted item (beyond a small rectangle of knit stitch, which was my first practice piece)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Boys of Summer

I'm behind on blogging again. My excuse: The Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival. We were away from Thursday through Sunday, and had a wonderful time. I will blog about that, but I haven't sorted through my photographs yet, so it can wait a few more days.

I've noticed that quite a few bloggers have been doing chicken-related blogs lately. A few days ago, I read the blog of Isobelle Golightly, the Beautiful Goat, which was all about some new chickens on her farm. Isobelle provides a funny and insightful view of the world from her goatie eyes, and she often makes me laugh. If you don't know her blog yet, you really should stop over and say hello! If you want to be especially nice, send her a peppermint or some bum scritches - her favourite things!!

Anyway, looking at Isobelle's new chicken friends made me want to go take some pictures of mine. I went out today and took some photographs and for today's blog, I'd like to feature the boys. Roosters are loud but beautiful. Some of my roosters are not quite as loud, and some of them are downright cute. Sometimes we have too many of the big roosters and we do a little reduction in numbers, especially when they seem to be pestering the hens a bit too often. The little roosters, however, escape the "freezer camp" days, because they're really not big enough to eat, they are quiet, and they don't hassle the hens nearly as much or as roughly. Some of them number among the most beautiful birds on my farm (at least in my opinion) so I thought I'd share them with you.

First, here are a few of the Dutch bantam roosters that I incubated and hatched earlier this spring. They were such tiny baby chicks, and now they are such handsome boys. They do crow, but relatively quietly compared to the big roosters. This one has lovely golden red feathers on his neck and back, with a black tail.
This little Dutch bantam roo has similar red and gold tones in his feathers, but is overall much darker than the first one. He's got a lovely tail!This little guy is nearly all black, and his feathers have a purple and green sheen in the sunlight. His neck and hackle feathers have touches of cream. He's another Dutch.
This sweet little boy is one of my favourites. He's actually a modern game bantam. He's tiny - smaller than any of the Dutch bantams. He's got a crow like a party horn and an attitude to match! Interesting markings too!
This little one (who is presently molting and not looking his best) is an Old English game bantam rooster. He's got the softest crow of all the bantams, and it only has two parts, rather than the three-to-four part crows of the others.Not to be outdone, the big boys said they'd like to be featured too. Here are some of our standard size roosters. This is Speckles - he's a fine example of the speckled Sussex breed of chicken. A loud crow and a proud walk are his finest features! He's got beautiful colours ranging from a deep chestnut to the bright white and the black feathers with iridescent green. Very showy!
This is the head of a crele coloured rooster. He is another loudmouth!
This beautiful boy is always finding his way into feed bags - even when they've been closed tightly! He's quite clever, and has a lovely comb. See his white earlobes?!Another of my favourite roosters is our Easter Egger rooster below - he was hatched on the farm and is likely a cross-breed, but he's so handsome, and he hatched from a blue egg.
This barred rock cross is another very handsome and princely rooster. He always likes to be viewing the world from high places. He's a loud crower and a ladies man!
Finally, I thought I would finish out with a few of the more unusual looking roosters on the farm. These are all on-farm hatches and cross breeds. We're not sure of their parentage, but they're cute and colourful!

This little boy clearly has some silkie and frizzle genes in his background. He's rather funny looking but very fluffy and he runs around like he owns the place. He's often found hanging out with the ducks for some reason. Here he is observing the ducks playing in a mud puddle.
For a long time I thought this little guy was a hen! Then he started to crow. He's definitely got frizzle genetics, and he's got some barring in the feathers. An interesting combination! His tail always looks rather like a fountain to me.
Finally, possibly the strangest looking rooster we have, but one that I suspect is quite unique! He seems to have a bit of a head crest - perhaps a bit of Polish background? I think he might be a Polish-Easter Egger mix. He has a couple of black feathers in his tail, but otherwise all gold and white. He's very skittish, but always makes me smile.
Hope you enjoyed the rooster tour! Stay tuned for the Wisconsin show and a tour of some of the hens in the coming days!

Monday, September 7, 2009

How I felt(ed)

Today, since it was a holiday from work and school, I wanted to do something fun. I still have readings to do for class tomorrow, and the kitchen needed some major attention today (in terms of tidying) but I still set aside time for fun. Today's fun was doing some wet felting. I love spinning, but felting is another interesting way to use fibre, and the wet felting technique can create some really interesting pieces.

I did four different felts today. This first one used a white base with some dyed fibres on top, and then I used feltable wool yarn in looping patterns to see how it would look when the wet felting was complete. The yarn adhered well to the base and the colours worked quite well together. I'm not sure how I'll use this piece but I like it.
The second felt is the base piece for some needle felting that I plan to do. Once the base felt is dry, it's easy to needle-felt other designs onto the base. This is a kind of woodsy scene (tree shape in upper right, sun on upper left, and a kind of path or stream through the middle. I'm going to have fun playing with this one over time.
My favourites of the pieces I did today are these two similar pieces that I felted with a base colour, onto which I added dyed locks - some mohair (that's from angora goats), some Lincoln, or other long-wooled sheep locks. The locks don't felt into the background quite like other wools do - they tend to sit on the top a bit more. They do adhere in places though, so overall they stick to the base. I like it that they don't felt in completely because it means their texture and curls are still very apparent.
To wet felt, one makes layers of fibre criss-crossed over each other, so that the fibers face in all different directions. Then, after laying on multiple layers of different fibres (colours, types, etc) one sprinkles it with very hot water and detergent. I put it between two layers of sheer fabric (old curtains) and then I start rubbing the design into the background. After the whole thing is wet and bubbly with detergent, I roll it up inside an old bamboo blind, and then in an old towel, and I begin to roll it back and forth. After about 100 rolls in one direction, I change the direction of the piece by unrolling it and turning a quarter turn. Another 100 rolls. Repeat both directions again. Then, I rinse out the detergent and hang them outside to dry. I could do more rolling to make it tighter, but on these pieces I didn't.

The best part is watching the transition from a pile of dry wool going every which way, to a finished piece.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

More Iowa State Fair!!

I promised I would finish out writing about the state fair, and so I shall, in just a few moments! I've been so busy this past week. Now that school is back in session, I have classes Monday through Wednesday, but still work full time and have the farm to keep me busy. It's enough to make my head spin.

In addition, we've been dealing with an unpleasant situation in the form of a completely irresponsible woman who bought Kelly's house on contract nearly two years ago. She's been delinquent with her payments most of the time in the past two years, and we've had to serve her on numerous occasions to get payments out of her. We finally served her for the last time just over a month ago, because she owed house payments since April as well as the balloon payment owed on the house due September 1. We knew she wouldn't come up with the money, so we've been waiting for the 30 day service to run. Of course, she didn't come up with the money, and she didn't move out either. So now, we are waiting for a forced eviction notice to run, which means she has to be out by Wednesday or the Sheriff comes and gets her out. I can't tell you how desperate we are to re-sell his house (and NOT on contract this time!!) In particular, I personally am very tired of paying two mortgages, since Kelly has been out of work and not able to pay for it. One mortgage is quite enough. Let's hope we can sell it quickly, but in this economy, who knows...

Still, I don't want to be grumpy for the entire blog post, so let's go back to the fair!! Last I left you, we had visited the rabbits. After that, we wandered past the chain saw carver doing his demonstration...
...and back guessed it....the llamas!! The showmanship competition was occurring. That is where you put your llama through the obstacle course and it's not the llama itself (i.e. conformation, etc) that is being judged - it's your ability to show your llama to the judge and have it complete the tasks. Tasks included things such as fancy sparkly streamers to be walked through...
...hula hoops to be put over your llama and then removed - one off each end....
...walking your llama through a water feature...
...and making your llama feel completely humiliated by putting a silly headband on it with antennae type things wobbling about. How embarrassing.
Not to be missed, the famous "take your llama for a walk under the umbrella" move (this was really distressing for some llamas - they don't seem to like umbrellas)...
...the lady on the lawn chair test - she has to pet the llama and the llama has to remain comfortable and quiet...
...the put-the-llama-in-the-trailer (without getting in yourself) test...
...rapidly followed by the "get your llama out of the trailer" move.
We noticed that the taller llamas had trouble with the hoops (understandably). This llama in particularly was quite lovely, and looked like she was wearing culottes.
But, eventually, it was time to move on from the llamas, so we wandered across to the "Avenue of Breeds" where they have various breeds of livestock on show. The variety is remarkable!
I was quite enamoured with these miniature Zebu cattle. So cute! And only about 2 feet tall at the shoulders! I could even picture myself milking one of those!
Here we also found Jacob sheep, just like ours, except these were much bigger!
There was a Texel sheep that I rather liked...
...and an Old English Southdown, commonly known as a baby doll sheep.
A very cute baby alpaca (they are called crias just like baby llamas) was eating some hay.
We visited with a very sweet LaMancha goat (yes, they do have very tiny, almost non-existent ears).
There was a silky fainting goat who was not interested in fainting and was much more interested in stealing the hay from the goat next door.
There were also some very cute angora goats.
In the "not-so-cute-but-interesting" category, there was an ostrich! Wow, they are huge!
This one was very interested in stealing Kelly's hat, and kept getting really close! Lovely eyelashes!
Can I just point out....they have very prehistoric looking feet. Quite intimidating and evocative of a velociraptor or something akin to it.
Moving right along, we found the belted Galloway cattle...

...and the mysterious Gelbvieh cattle (how do you pronounce that anyway?) who, according to their sign were supposed to be "golden red w. dark features" but these!There were so many breeds and beautiful animals - I couldn't take pictures of all of them. I did take one of this lovely American Cream Draft horse.
It reminded me of some of the fancy horses we'd seen earlier in the day trotting by while we watched the llamas.
On our way out, we saw the....
...and by that time, we pretty much felt like this!So we went home to rest!