Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles

Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles! Our farm mission is to enjoy and promote the wonderful diversity of the Shetland breed by fully utilizing to the best of our ability all they have to offer historically. We believe the best preservation and management of this breed includes it's full spectrum of history. We encourage old and new shepherds alike to join in the fun by engaging in fiber arts, especially spinning and knitting, as this breed is so intimately linked with those aspects of the arts.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Clunk Day

lol!  Well, I don't have any pictures of Clunk Day, but yesterday was it.  What on earth is Cluck Day, you wonder?  Around here, Clunk Day is feared as the most challenging day of the whole year, and this year, we did it the day after Christmas!  It's the day we break up our breeding groups and put all the rams back together in one space...a VERY, VERY SMALL SPACE, so that they can only clunk horns, not whack!

Wheely Wooly Whirlwind (Whirly) and Wheely Wooly Moonlight were outstanding rams during their time with their girls.  The ewes were very happy in their groups, too.  You can tell by the sparkle in their eyes and the quality of their fleeces.  The rams take very good care of their groups, and I always hate to break that up when it's time.  Wheely Wooly Splash (Splashy) was also a very good ram, and of course, Wooly Bear was king.  He's a piece of cake...a testament to the outstanding value of a ram with good temperament!!  All of them were good rams and all the ewes are content and healthy coming out of breeding season.

So where do the rams go?  In prior years, I put them back together in a makeshift wire fence pen in the barn...just big enough for them to move around, but not big enough for any backing and whacking.  When you put rams back together, they smell like their ewes, and that is what creates all the trouble!  Rams are very protective and defensive of their group of girls, and they take their rights to them very seriously.  So when you put the rams all back together, with the scent of all the ewes mixed in on their wool, it creates defensive chaos.  They feel threatened by each other, and feel a strong need to drive each other away.  They will defend to the death, if they feel it necessary.  So putting the rams back together is always a worrisome time.  So far each year, it's not been too bad and I think the way I handle them, and the temperament I breed for helps in a very big way.  They are kept in this small pen for about a day.

Why the small pen?  Well, it gives them the opportunity to move around, get reacquainted, and realize they are all rams...no more girls around.  They sort of get reintroduced that they are all guys and that they don't need to be so defensive anymore.  In this process, they scurry around, rubbing their horns on the sides of each other, pushing each other around, or standing head to head, pushing on each other.  From the moment you put them back together, they are grunting, growling, and clunking horns.  You can hear the clunks and clicks as they rustle around in the straw.  This year, I have them in a stall in the barn that is more secure than others, and has a nice window for light and fresh air.  As they rustle around, their horns clunk on the walls, on each other, and on their water bucket.  Yep.  It's clunk day!

This is the day I spend a lot of time out in the barn, just finding things to do.  I frequently keep watch over them, and check on them frequently to make sure clunking is all that is going on.  If things get out of hand, I must intervene with a nice splash of cold water.  Works like a charm!  I also feed them small amounts, frequently, to keep them occupied and busy and moving (i.e. rubbing on each other) until they all smell alike and feel less rammy.  Also a great charm!

Well, all that was yesterday.  On our barn check late last night, the rams were all laying down and peaceful.  Perfect!  This morning, still all peaceful.  No karate-chopped boards, no splinters, no injuries.  Perfect!  I think we've made it through another year of Clunk Day!  Whew!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Bl..Bl...Blizzard!

Well, the last 35 hours have been interesting!  We had a peaceful week, with some drizzly rain, bare grass, mild temps.  Then, the forecasters told us we were gonna get hit by a blizzard!  We always take their warnings seriously, hoping to be laughing at the end that they were blissfully wrong.  Not this time!  Good thing we take these things seriously!

With supplies stocked up, flashlights ready, and animals secured, we waited for the storm to hit.  It started Wed. evening, around midnight, with a quiet snowfall.  Nothing serious.  By dawn, snow was falling harder and the wind had picked up.  Schools called off classes the night before, due to the massive amount of snow predicted to fall, along with higher winds.  It was a cozy day in the barn and in the house.  I had made chicken and dumplings the day before so I wouldn't have to cook much the day of the blizzard.  You can't cook for extended periods of time on those kinds of days because you never know when the power will go out!

As the day progressed, the snow piled up!  Swifty had a ball playing out there!  The geese stayed in, the horses were content to hang out in their stalls, and the sheep lulled over their cud, half awake.   By nightfall, things were drifting pretty bad.   The plows passed the farmhouse time and time again.  Sheesh!  I've never seen them plow so frequently!

Bedtime came, and it was time to stop worrying.  I had knit on my sweater, with the lights on the tree twinkling nearby.  Hot coffee was a frequent delight of the day.

This morning....WOW!  That was a dump of a storm!  Our driveway was invisible, except the massive rock hard boulders the plows left at the head near the road!  We didn't get mail yesterday.  Bucking out of the driveway this morning required 4 low in the truck, with care to not punch out and go right over the road and off the other side!  Our plow guy slid off the neighbor's driveway, down a hill, and right into their raspberry patch!  We had to wait for a wrecker to pull him out...

The sheep and everyone are still cozy in the barn, our plow guy has been freed from the raspberry canes, our driveway is plowed, and the skies are bright and sunny.  There's over a foot of snow out there!  It surely will be a VERY white christmas!

For those readers who are local, hope you all made it through this blizzard safely!  Here's to safe travel and good holiday cheer as we head straight into the holiday festivities!  Take care everyone!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pretty Headbands for Holidays


Pretty!

Wheely Wooly Farm is running a sale on our headbands for a limited time, while supplies last!  Base color on all of them is black from our ewe, Mona.  The crocheted borders are in a range of beautiful colors.  Some have coordinating flowers, some have different colored flowers that accent the borders.  There are only a few left, so if you want one, be sure to contact us.  You can either call or email.  These headbands make great gifts for girls (daughters, nieces, neighbors, babysitters, etc.), but are also popular with women.  There are two sizes, but quantities of those sizes varies.  I'm working on making more...

Have a great start to the week everyone!  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Heading into Holidays

Country Boy, Wilbur

Things have really quieted down here on the farm lately.  This is a time of year to look forward to, except for the bad weather we know will come.  We've had about three inches of snow so far, and that came nicely.  It's packy and perfect for building snowsheep for viewing out the windows!  For the most part, our temperatures have been mild.  How nice that is, for there is less ice smashing out of water buckets each day.  The snow is also nice for keeping water buckets shiny clean.  Snow crystals act like little scrubbers, so if you have dirt in your buckets, just swipe some snow around inside for a nice clean bucket in no time.

With daylength getting to the shortest of the year, there are many stretches of time for knitting and spinning.  I've been doing a lot of both lately.  I'm trying to get caught up in spinning, while the knitting is on my Wooly Bear sweater.  I really like the pattern on it.  You can see pictures of it a few blogs back.  I can't WAIT to wear it!  It's so warm and soft on my lap, I love it already!

It's also time to start thinking of 4-H projects.  Last year it was mittens made from handspun yarn.  This year, perhaps a pair of socks will be the goal!  Socks can be knit so simply that they closely resemble mitten skills such as working in the round, ribbing, and picking up stitches.  The decreases are a cinch (simply knit two together), if you remember where you must work them.  Better yet, socks don't have thumbs...something that would make the knitter happy.  I could spin the yarn, which would make the socks fall in the knit category for the fair, or the knitter could spin the yarn which would put the entry in the sheep category.  Either way, options are there.  Last year's mittens were entirely the knitter's project from fiber preparation to dyeing to spinning to finishing.  Fun!!!  I always love watching these projects become reality!

The mild evenings we've been having are nice for spending time out in the barn, scratching chins and brushing horses.  It's really nice time to get away from the bustle of modern day life.  If you need a break from traffic, long work hours, or crowded places, the barn is the place to be! 

We hope you are all having a really nice warm up to the holiday season!  We'll be continuing at the market for several more dates so be sure to look for us!  New yarns from new sheep come nearly every week, as well as new colors.  See you there!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Geese!

Meet Pomander and Hyssop, two delightfully smart geese!

Fun!  Earlier this year, back at the end of summer, two beautiful geese came to live at Wheely Wooly Farm! We are very happy at getting them.  It was not easy.  Finding a goose to buy is not easy, but as fall came, ads started popping up offering geese for sale.  We did not get them from such an ad, rather, we knew the person who had them.  I had first seen them at this person's house earlier in the summer, and before that, I had heard she had baby geese.  I've wanted to get geese for a long time.  Finally, here they are!

The gander (male goose) is on the left.  The goose (female goose) is on the right.  She looks more feminine and is lighter all around.  They are called Pomeranian geese, which is a breed from overseas.  These two have feather markings known in the goose world as 'saddlebacked', for the gray coloring over their backs.  They have bright pinkish orange bills and legs which are bright and beautiful!  Their size is impressive considering they are just babies born this year!  Geese grow fast.  

The pomeranians were a popular breed extending from modern day Poland to Germany and all along the Baltic sea coastal areas.  They were/are considered a common farm goose well loved for their meat and feathers.  Interestingly, they come from basically the same region as the Friesian Sheep come from, maybe extending a little further east than the sheep do.  Of all the goose breeds available, I'm always fascinated that my choices tend to the regions of my ancesters, before I know where the breeds come from.  Fascinating stuff.


Pomander got his name because he is a POMeranian gANDER.  His size is impressive even though these geese are in the medium size class...meaning they are not the largest of the goose breeds.  I guess I'm just used to chickens. lol

HYSSop got her name from the idea that I surely hope she'll hiss at me someday!  I'm hoping they will pair up and give me goslings next spring.  I'm hoping she'll sit on a nest and be protective when I come quietly around in excitement...and hiss in defense of her eggs.  You never know with geese, so we'll see.

In the months and weeks they've been here, many common attitudes about geese have been completely dissolved.  For example, they do not attack you!  I'm sure they would if I was mean to them, but if you give them what they need, they'll hang around and enjoy your company just as you enjoy theirs.  Second, they do not require a boatload of work!  In fact, they've been the easiest animal on the farm!  They graze grass and do not need supplemental feed.  They do not fly away, so do not require expensive fencing.   We put them in the barn at night and they spend their days outside snoozing and grazing.  They are peaceful...well, that is except the morning run out of the barn, in which they honk in delight!  Always a joy to see them happily heading out for a day of grazing.  Also, they are NOT stupid!  They are very bright and alert, easy to train, and easy to herd anywhere you want them to go.

Yes, we are enjoying our geese!  I can see why they were so loved and useful to normal farms and families over the centuries.  So what do geese have to do with sheep?  This IS a sheep farm blog afterall!  Stay tuned to learn why on earth sheep would need geese nearby!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I'm knitting, Sophie's snoozin, Swifty's....

Good Boy Swifty...chew on your bone now...
(Swifty claimed this chair as his own.  Such a good shepherd I am to let him have it! :)

 Uh oh!  Where ya goin' Swifty?  Aren't you gonna chew on your bone?
 Oh Swiffffff-tttttyyyyyy....where are you gooooo-innnngggg?

That's a nice boy!  Just chew on your bone now, so I can knit.
(Doggies love a good bone.)

Canine joy.  Life is good for a sheep dog!

I may be making slow clothes, but I DON'T have a slow dog! giggle, giggle
Funny how that works:  I need a fast dog to make slow clothes.  Huh.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Slow clothes and an accidental realization.

Oh, Sophie!

That's a picture of my lap.  One snuggly kitten, and one giggling knitter are in this picture!  How does one shoo her away?  I was knitting on the left front of my Wooly Bear sweater when she came along.  I was only a few stitches into the row.  She can sniff out a knitter in seconds!  I tried to discourage her by putting her down, but no...no discouragement accepted!  She just jumped up again and again, eventually winning her battle for my lap with purring persistence.  Why do I let her do that? lol

The part of the sweater that is behind her and over most of her body is the back of the sweater.  I needed it to measure how many rows to knit on the left front up to the armhole.  As I was comparing back and forth, she became covered more and more.  It didn't take long for me to realize how comfortably warm this sweater will be!  You have a layer of warm air around you yet your skin can still breathe.  How wonderful!  When I folded it up and placed it back in my knitting basket, I instantly felt cold.  

On another thought, I read in today's paper about that terrible garment factory fire overseas.  I really don't want to comment on that as this is sheep blog about sheep and wool farming.  I will say though that my heart really hurts for those people.  How awful.

Of course, you can't help but think of your own clothing supply and sources in light of this horrible news.  As I was thinking about this, I was knitting on my sweater.  Then it slowly dawned on me that just as raising your own food can bring you better nutrition and joy in life, so too can knitting some of your own clothes bring you good things.  I get so frustrated driving around to all the stores, searching for clothing that fit properly and that I like.  Hours and hours are spent on this.  Yet here I am, spending hours working on my sweater, but they are very pleasant hours where I'm warm, my brain can relax, and I can gain joy out of what I'm doing.  I began to realize that slow clothes...that is clothes that take time to make with your own hands...bring many good things, and perhaps stop some bad things.  It was all just an accidental realization.

It takes more than a year to make a sweater like this.  First, it takes a whole year of good and thoughtful care for the sheep to grow high quality wool.  Actually, it took me two years of intense research to decide how to even PICK a ram for my ewes.  The breeding decisions take time and care.  So after the sheep is cared for by you for a whole year...no mud, good nutrition, good hoof care and good social life, you shear him.  That takes me somewhere between 25 minutes to an hour.  It then takes two hours for me to clean the fleece, then three days for it to dry nicely, then a week to spin it.  Then, the yarn is washed again to set the twist, and given three more days to dry.  At that time, I spend an hour balling the skeins up and getting my supplies ready for knitting.  With my pattern and needles ready, I begin many hours of knitting.  This is slow.  And yet, the result is so satisfying!  The quality in the garment is outstanding!  The fibers trap warm air next to my skin, making me feel protected and cozy.  The yarn has proper ease in it, so it moves WITH you, rather than making it feel like you have a layer of snake skin on you, restricting your reaching or bending.  The fibers allow moisture to move out, so that your skin doesn't get clammy and sweaty, thus preventing rashes on the skin and stinky body odor from bacteria growth.  It's a cinch to wash, taking less time than waiting around for the wash machine to finish.  The colors are not dyes, so they don't fade, bleed, or wash out.  In fact, the colors are rich and harmonious.  They are pleasant to look at, and blend nicely with many other colors because they are indeed the colors of nature.  Nature is an amazing thing.

As I was knitting along, Sophie occasionally stretching under the sweater, I was appreciating my accidental realization.  Slow clothes.  Nice!      

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Yarns for sale!

Shetland yarns for sale!
   Our locally produced yarns make for wonderful gifts for the knitters and crocheters in your life.  Give your loved one or friend a couple of skeins with a nice crocheted flower on top for a lovely gift that will surely make a fine impression!  It's even nicer to know that all of our products are produced sustainably.   Come see what our sheep look like, feel our super soft yarns, and enjoy the outstanding colors!  We'll be at the market nearly every weekend for the next several weeks, so don't forget to stop by to wrap up your Christmas shopping!   

Monday, November 26, 2012

Knitting a ram

Well everyone, hope you didn't get too stuffed over the holiday weekend!  Despite the cold air that moved in, it was a wonderful break.  The flock and all others were cozily hanging out in the barn when the north winds began to blow, bringing the temperature down nearly 40 degrees from near 60 degrees to a much colder upper 20's.  This time of year, the barn is always a cozy shelter that they all appreciate very much.

Have you ever knit a ram?  Here is Wooly Bear's yarn, being knitted into a sweater I've been planning for a long time.  His fleece this year was just gorgeous!  It was such a pleasure spinning it up into all the yarn I'd need for this sweater.  I could sit at my wheel and spin Shetland fiber like this for hours and hours!  When it was all spun up, I washed it to set the twist and when it was dry (barely!), I began my knitting.  I could hardly wait to get started!
 Wooly Bear's yarn being knitted into a long awaited sweater

The brown (moorit) along the top of the above photo, and on the left side of the photo below is from sweet Maewyn (a ewe in our flock).  I just love how Shetland colors pair together so harmoniously.  When the sweater is put together, I'll finish it with some more details and enhancements.  I'm knitting it on circular needles, but not in the round. That means I'll have to sew the sections together after each section and sleeve is knitted.  It's not the fastest way to make a sweater, but still, it's pleasurable knitting.
 The back section, folded over, with circular needles and the current ball

Along the waist of the sweater, just above the moorit color is a cable and ladders pattern that was fun to knit.  It was pretty simple and easy going.  Then, I debated throwing in a couple garter rows of moorit above that, but decided to just leave Wooly Bear's yarn there.  Above the cables and ladders is plain stockinette stitch.  The needles are close to the neck and I'm almost ready to begin the neck and shoulder shaping.  It sure is fun to work on this!
That works for me Sophie!

Sweet little Sophie can be quite a pest when I'm knitting!  She'll insist on sleeping on my lap, which makes for challenging knitting...partly because I cannot hold my work in the most comfortable place, but also because she LOVES to swat at or try to eat my yarn as I pull on the ball!  Pesty!  How can you make such a warm snuggle kitty move under such circumstances?  So the exasperation is on-going...until that is....this little basket happened to be placed on the sofa nearby.  Within moments, she climbed in and was sound asleep.  Finally, I could knit in peace!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

It's Tradition!



Don't overstuff yourselves!
My Shetland ram, Wooly Bear.
Just as we love our annual turkey dinner, so too does Wooly Bear love his annual pumpkin treats!  Hopefully, we'll be a bit more graceful in our eating style at our family holiday table! lol

Wheely Wooly Splash, as a newborn with his mom, Gwendolyn

There is  news about Splash.  I thought we were going to lose him!  We still don't know what happened, but he wouldn't eat one day.  So I brought him in and began observing him.  He had no signs of injury or disease, and had been bright-eyed and healthy just that morning.  I'm thinking in hind sight that he might have taken a whack from another ram and perhaps had some sort of internal injury.  It was a sad day and I wasn't sure he'd make it.  He didn't have much pain or any symptoms to really observe, but something was clearly wrong.  Whatever it was, he is clearly getting better!  What a relief!  He is so sweet, and such a nice ram, I'd hate to lose him.  I don't think we're out of the woods yet, but his energy is clearly better, eyes bright again, and he's ready to do his work!  My rams and wethers get along great.  If they didn't, somebody would go.  They have their order that they rarely challenge.  Splashy was at the bottom, with Whirly.  They are best buds, always hanging out together.  Both are very, very sweet.  Both are getting girls this year! (...and that'll change 'em!) Let's hope all turns out ok for Splashy for good!

(In fact, I put Whirly with his girls and he INSTANTLY...I mean I don't think he was even fully through the gate...turned from sweet little guy, to a whole new posturing, sniffing, circle-turning, expert at his job!  Ok, it cracked me up at how FAST that transformation happened. lol  Atta boy, Whirly!)

I was planning on mentioning why you'd want to halter train all your rams.  Rams MUST be handled, whether it's for hoof trimming, healthcare, breeding inspections, shearing, or just plain moving them from place to place...there are many reasons why an untamed, unhandled ram is not good.  ALL rams are dangerous to some degree.  They are unpredictable animals with instinctual thoughts that are beyond human understanding.  At BEST, we can only try to follow their thoughts and needs.  That's why I always advocate for early handling of rams.  That means, we don't play with them, but teach them to respect us and that we respect them.  They are actually very intelligent and loving, but they are still whacking machines!  They LOVE scratching on their backs and chests, and they love chin scratches just where their wool and facial fur meet on the underside of their chins.  They find any touching to their horns or tops of head (even the bridge of their noses and that wooly area between the eyes), or just behind horns on heads to be extremely threatening.  Don't ever touch them there!  

If you think of them as intelligent, amazing beings, you won't have much trouble with them, unless you taunt them, handle their horns, or don't breed for proper sweet Shetland temperament.  Good breeding, good health, and good handling will give you a happy relationship with your rams. They are healthier, safer to have around, and easy to move about to your ewes.
Wheely Wooly Lerwick
I can easily move Lerwick around anywhere I want with a halter.
I halter trained him as a baby lamb.  It's second nature to him.
Here's a cutie!  Baby Wooly Bear learns the halter is not a wolf.
The very first day I had him home, I had the halter on him.
Day two, the halter was on again, and we were working on handling.
By day three, he understood that he would survive, and that I was not a threat.

Today, Wooly Bear is frequently handled.  He is very affectionate and I love giving him attention.  He is also a very powerful top ram who can whack so hard, the sound of it can make you queasy.  I also see worry in his eyes from time to time that his lambs will out-power him someday and someone else will be top ram.  I hope I'm around the moment that happens, for I've already planned that he will be pulled from the group and given his own pen with his buddy, Wilbur.  Wooly Bear is a treasured ram and I'll keep him as long as I can. But for now, he is in his glory, King of the Farm, foundation sire, cornerstone to our flock!

From your friends at Wheely Wooly Farm, have a stuffingly good Thanksgiving everyone!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Haven't seen this yet...

We've had really nice weather lately after getting a harmless snow the other day.  The snow came down fast but melted upon landing.  The grass is green now, after being brown all summer, while the fields and woods are now many shades of ambers, russets, and other browns.  The juncos have arrived at our feeders and the chickadees are finally fattening up.  I was shocked at how tiny and thin they were when I decided to put seed out.  Starving, the chickadees came fast...a whole bunch of them...and ate, and ate, and ate.  I think summer was rough on them, too.

The farm has been a busy place.  There is always work to do.  Sheep are getting rotated around to new pens for breeding groups.  This is a noisy time of year, as sheep settle into new, but temporary groupings with rams.  Wheely Wooly Whirlwind, affectionately dubbed 'Whirly' is getting some older ewes that are not related to him.  (Remember Whirly?  He's the CUTE little lamb that was born as a tornado was passing just northwest of our farm on a stormy spring day!)  Wheely Wooly Moonlight is getting ewes, too!  We are very excited to be using these rams, as both have yarns that sell out fast for their softness and richness of color, and both rams have outstanding personalities.  Other rams are getting used as well.  Wooly Bear of course will get his girls, and Wink is getting a couple as well and...so much to say!

Poor Wilbur...he's stuck.  He's stuck babysitting...

Planning the groups is great fun, and takes many months of pondering and diagramming to get things just right.  Then, after getting breeding pens set up, after trimming dozens of hooves, attending to meal plans and giving everyone a good once over to verify gleaming health, the big day arrives!  I've got my list smartly on sticky notes this year so I can just stick them to the beam in the barn. The sheep seem excited!  Some are waiting to stick their noses in the halter in anticipation of their unique to them move, while others, after years of chin scratches suddenly play hard to catch...sigh!  Silly girls!  Rainbow plays this game with me every year.  When you finally get close enough to catch her, she stands perfectly still and patiently waits for the halter to be placed nicely on her head.  She has long been halter trained and feels just fine with the routine...walking easily and loosely where ever you want to take her.  It's getting CLOSE to her that's challenging on grouping day!  Meanwhile, Wheely Wooly Lacey seems to have forgotten her halter skills and is leaping ten feet off the ground (or so it seems through all the giggling!) instead of taking steps!  She knows the routine of halters and walking, but seems to take joy in leaping instead, even through gates.  So we just let her, being careful to open the gates wide enough for her to leap through rather than squeeze through.

Other chores are getting done around all the sheepy excitement.  There are many things to do in preparation for winter besides planting garlic and cleaning up the garden, such as getting leaves over the soil in the garden to smother weeds, feed worms, and enrich the soil.  There's pruning to be done, general clean-up, and things to bring in for the winter.  Plants get divided and relocated, the coop gets winterized, and the barn gets an overhaul of cleaning and repairing.  Well, maybe that barn thing is more a dream in my head some days than it is reality.  Seems there is always something needing fixing in the barn!

Next up, why it's important to halter train your rams!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

WHO migrates?

Fall is a time of migration...of humans as much as for birds and other such things.  As temperatures drop, humans migrate as reliably as our furred and feathered friends do.  When the wind starts to howl, when the skies cloud up,, when frost grays the dawn, humans begin their moves...to computers, shopping malls, and to comfy chairs with knitting needles and balls of yarn nearby!

Welcome to our farm blog!  This is not a personal window into a million friends, how times are changing, or opinions of lousy politicians, but rather a blog about a sheep farm struggling to become known in a sea of agri-illiteracy.  In our modern world, sheep farms have fallen off the radars of most of humanity, it seems.  While the animal lovingly known as domesticus sheepus is more reliably seen behind fences on the pages of children's stories and the word 'fleece' makes people think of fuzzy plastic at the craft store, truth is, sheep farms and their fiber are flying under the radar with as much sophistication as the modern day bat planes of spying governments (well, almost...ok, maybe that's a tad exaggerated...).  Armed with loud baas, soft wool, and fierce determination to be finishers of all things knitted, Wheely Wooly Farm is surely an adventure for all who migrate to the posts and pictures of our farm story!

We hope you enjoy reading about our little woollies with their sweet, funny antics and featherlite fibers!  We hope you learn of the adventures domesticus sheepus bring to an otherwise doldrum modern life (such as finding motivation to remove yourself from that comfy chair REAL quick when you see sheep bounding past the living room window...).  We hope you will be inspired to see the sheep with the eyes we see them with...as partners in joy, adventure, and living.  The lens of this blog has already inspired many people, brought awareness of that feeling we've dubbed  'sheepus joyous', and perhaps even educated a person or two.  But mostly, this story has made the migratory journey, just like ourselves, from fields and concrete grayness to the warmth of a cozy arm chair under the click of swift-moving needles intelligently tangled in the lightest, fluffiest, most amazing yarn a knitter can find.  It's a call to all those who migrate.  Come find us at the market for a wonderful rest stop in a sea of soft yarns.  Tired muscles find rest and restoration in the thoughts of time spent knitting something beautiful and rewarding to wear!  Feed the weary modern mind while looking at the pictures of the animals, fibers, yarns, flowers and views at the farm...while sitting in the glow of your computer screen or mePAD, safe and warm.  Experience the joys of knitting with the lightest, fluffiest, nicest smelling yarns you've ever had, while anxiously anticipating the outstanding performance of warmth on bitter cold or wet and clammy days.  All of these things are anticipated in the migratory preparations.  Needles and patterns are gathered up, the chair is moved to the warmest place in the room next to the brightest light, inventory of old clothing is taken, coffee and tea supplies are stocked up (and maybe a bag of cookies is stashed away...), battery chargers found and put in place.

We welcome all of you, both those who've just flown in and those who've returned year after year!  We hope you'll enjoy following the life of shepherds on a sheep farm.  And while resting in our waters, squawk, whistle and howl about us to all your friends and neighbors about the joys of domesticus sheepus!

Happy squawking, whistling and howling everyone!

  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lookin' out a country window...


Looovvvvveeee iiiitttt!

silly rooster

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Wheely Wooly Farm on TV!

Half our booth in October with our new tent

The first day of the winter farm market was great!  Thanks to all of you who stopped by to purchase fine Wheely Wooly Farm yarns, shawls, scarves and flowers!  The market has expanded this year, with more awesome vendors, but I didn't get to walk around much and see them because we were pretty busy.  It's always so nice to visit with friends, sip delicious coffee and be a part of the local movement!

As exciting as that all was, we were also very excited at the opportunity to be on our local news!  Watch WBAY Channel 2 for video of our booth and our comments about how the market helps small farms like ours!  Thanks goes out to WBAY for supporting the efforts of local farms in their struggle to bring so many fine products to the people of northeast Wisconsin!

If you missed us on WBAY, come down to the market next Saturday and see for yourself all of the fine products to be discovered!  In one swoop, you can fill a big part of your grocery list AND Christmas shop AND find warm clothing all in one stop.  Hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Speaking of outsourcing...

As autumn creeps into the holiday season, Wheely Wooly Farm has wrapped up another summer farm market season.  I'll surely miss all the bright sunflowers, wafts of fresh dill and basil floating in the air, the joy of long, chatty lines for blueberries and sweet corn, and smiling faces brightened by the wonderful sensory experience that being close to nature brings.  People are happy at the market.  It's a wonderful place to be!

We want to thank all of you for supporting our farm with your purchases of fine yarns this summer!  It is clear to see that many of you are not waiting for a president to fix or repair our outsourcing problems, but rather, are taking action with your own dollars.  We heard over and over this summer how senseless it is to ship yarns here from overseas when beautiful, high quality yarns are being produced right here in our own 'backyards'.  So many of you have come to realize the pollution such shipping brings, as well as other ethical issues both environmentally and socially, and how unsustainable that all is.  Americans have long been good at raising fine quality fiber, and using it to design beautiful and functional clothing.   We are thankful that so many of you recognize the quality and work that goes into producing such fine yarns, and are voting with your dollars to support our domestic wool supply!  Thank you!

You can continue to support our fiber farm and our sweet Shetland sheep as the winter holiday season slips in!  We will be at the market on most days leading up to Christmas, and some days afterwards, so be sure to come back for your Christmas shopping and projects!  The market moves indoors now, with music, special events, and lots more good stuff!  Each week, we pick up things on our grocery list there from local producers such as meat, apples and soap.  If you are not raising a huge garden like us, you can also find (if things are like last year) fresh greenhouse tomatoes, potatoes, squashes, onions, jerky, buffalo meat, baskets, beautiful hand painted glassware, our hand spun fibers, locally made chocolates, awesome relishes and sauces, local honey (scrumptious!!), tasty jams and jellies, local fresh breads (heavenly!) and healthy soaps, lotions and balms for winter weary skin, and so much more!  What a wonderful way to help fix the outsourcing problems our politicians have created!  With all the modern frustrations with our politics, here is something you can take control of.  Create a job, meet a neighbor, buy local!  See you there!

P.S.  We are continuing our special to show appreciation for you, our customers!  Buy two skeins of yarn and get a crocheted flower of your choice, FREE! (while supplies last)


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Shetland Spook!


Spoooooo-kyyyyy!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Fiber Life

What is "The Fiber Life"?  Let me see if I can help define that:

1.  fleeces on drying racks all over the house...
2.  balls of yarn in baskets on every table, in every vehicle, and in every purse...
3.  a whole room in the house devoted to warehouse-style fleece storage...
3.a.  ...with it's own sophisticated record system for easy categorizing and locating, that include sheepy drawings...
4.  sheep conversation at every restaurant, every family gathering, and every road trip...
5.  fray-edged stitch dictionaries with dog-eared pages on every table, nightstand, and coffee spot...
6.  half knit socks in plastic zip bags near every sitting chair, and one for the road "just in case"...
7.  a 'going away' scarf, a 'barn scarf', a 'visiting scarf', a 'restaurant scarf', a 'professional scarf', a 'try-it-out-  on-people' scarf, a 'blizzard scarf', a 'driving scarf', ....
8.  eyeballs for sheep...no matter WHERE you are driving!...
9.  ...in fact, you can name where all the sheep live in a multiple county area...
10. ...and what breeds they all are...
10.a. ...and whether or not they need to be sheared...
11.  a spinning wheel in the kitchen...
12.  ...and one in the living room...
13.  ...and a drop spindle handy 'just in case'...
13.a.  ...one downstairs....a few upstairs...
14.  balls of yarn next to the computer...
14.a.  a basket of yarn on the printer...
15.  a jar of needles on the dinner table...
16.  balls of yarn on the coffee table...
17.  skeins of yarn hanging from drying racks in multiple rooms...
18.  the latest photocopy of a pattern on the sofa...
19.  a basket of fiber next to the basket of fiber by the living room wheel...
20.  a kool-aid stash that would make a certain southern festival in spring look bland...
20.a.  an occasional lamb in diapers leaping and bounding into the next room...
21.  bags of frozen flower heads next to the meat and strawberries in the freezer...
22.  balls of yarn where the microwave used to be...
23.  the next fleece to be skirted near the back door waiting...
23.a.  next to the bored border collie who's staring at the door...
23.b  canning jars with needles on top of the hutch...
24.  handshears in the mitten drawer, next to the flower froggs...
25.  spinning oil on the coffee table...and near the kitchen table...and....
26.  a stack of dish pans the size of a normal pile of dishes at a busy restaurant...
26.a.  three ring binders labeled 'sheep' on every bookshelf...
27.  yarn tails forgotten between sofa cushions, next to the crumbs...
28.  a scissors of some sort every five feet...
29.  a basket of yarn under the table, and one in front of the TV...
29.a.  baas coming in the windows...
29.b.  ...usually during the most important phone calls...
30.  large glassed-in cases up against every bare inch of wall...full of yarns...
31.  yarny/fleecy ornaments in the christmas box...
31.a.  tapestry needles on my christmas list every year...
32.   sheepy magnets on the fridge...
33.   ...next to the newest yarn samples to view in changing daylight...
34.  ...trunk of yarns beside the piano...watch out you don't trip!...
35.   batts on the bookshelf...
36.   Honey?  Will you build me a batt house?? (Bat, Bat)
37.  sigh...I love the fiber life!

Friday, October 19, 2012

What a perfect day to...

 ...sit near a window and look out at the gorgeous foliage while knitting! (or spinning!)

I could sit near this window all day!  This is "Mary Maple", a favorite tree on our farm, and she's just outside our kitchen window.  I have a perfect knitting chair near this window, with perfect arms on it for knitting.  It keeps me sitting up nice and straight, comfortably knitting away in the brightness of natural, autumny daylight.   The finished part of my knitting keeps my lap warm, and I have a steaming cup of coffee nearby that smells oh so good!  It's so nice to take some time to enjoy the bright colors of the leaves.    Sometimes I get distracted from my stitches as I watch a leaf here and there flitter down to the ground.  The leaves are falling off much slower this year than they ever have before.  Most years, the leaves fall off in a waterfall, making a huge pile in just a couple of days.  For those of you who follow our farm blog, you might remember that I had best friends Maewyn and Posie grazing here last fall.  Remember how they watched for falling leaves, then competed over who'd get to it faster?  Silly girls.  Speaking of Maewyn, her fleece is on my wheel right now!  Stay tuned for future posts and I'll show you how it looks!

I'm ready for knitting!

So with the cool air we've had lately, and the steady rain showers, I've been busily getting my knitting projects all lined up.  The purplish yarn is a coarser yarn from a ball of roving I purchased, and the moorit yarn with the lovely highlights and heathering are from Maewyn's britch wool.  I was hoping to get a close enough match to make some really strong mittens that will last me a long time.  I never have enough time to make enough barn mittens for myself, so I'm hoping to remedy that this year.  And some years, my barn mittens get lost to other people who wish to have such warmth for themselves.  Once people experience how warm their hands CAN be, they WANT the wool!  

Are you ready for knitting?  When the cool weather settles in, are you like a squirrel, scurrying around searching for the patterns you want to knit up next?  I am! :)  Find your patterns, get your projects prioritized, and head on down to the market in the morning, where we will be waiting for you with many lovely yarns to choose from!  We'll have natural colors, dyed colors, and yarn of all gauges waiting to be knitted up into clothes you'll come to love, or feel proud to give away as special gifts!  Don't forget, due to the washout last weekend, we are still running our special of buy two skeins and get a crocheted flower of your choice FREE!  Just mention that you saw it here.  Also, don't forget to look for our new purple tent!

See you in the morning!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lunch with the sheep

Autumn is in full swing here.  After a full weekend of pouring rain, we ended up with a soggy 3-4 inches!  After the first full day of rain, fog set in along with a hush across the landscape.  The smell of leaves, the colors, the warmth of the fog were all a wonderful and refreshing experience after a summer of blazing sun and 100 degree heat.  I decided to work a bit on the end-of-summer garden cleanup, only to discover after pulling (hard!) on some weeds and things, that the ground was so desperately in need of moisture, that 2 inches of rain barely sunk in more than in inch!  Other areas saw plain run-off, but where the water could sink in, it barely made it past the surface!  Something to keep in mind as we approach freezing.  Obviously, the tree roots did not get what they need yet!
 Fun little pumpkins!

Most of the harvest is in now.  We ended up with more than a dozen of these little Sweet Lightning pumpkins, and they are now all over the house!  What a cute way to make the house seasonal, bright and cozy.
A perk of the work!

When you knock yourself out all day, chasing all the things you have to accomplish in a day, it's nice to take a few moments for a peaceful lunch with the sheep!  Looking out my window, across the bird feeder and lawn, I have the ewes set up to graze on fresh grass.  They love the sugar maple leaves that blow around, and are experts at raking for me!  All I have to do is put them there, and they'll happily work on yard cleanup.  As I eat my lunch, this is the view I enjoy.  Peace.  The work stops for a moment, the day slows down, my feet can rest.  At one point, Minty sees me through the window and baas sweetly to me.  Claire contentedly chews her cud, standing so squarely on her large frame.  Hazel shakes herself off more, after being out in the good soaking rain the last two days.  Maewyn and Mona are competing for a delicious spot of grass together.  Suddenly, the day's pressures fade as I watch what they are doing.  Their fleeces are all fluffy now as they dry off.  The white sheep look really white again, and the black sheep look really black.  As they graze along, it's hard to convince myself that I have to get up and get going again!  How special it is, and what a great perk of the work, to have the sheep join me for lunch.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Which state is it? and Goldie's nine lives

Still doing lots of spinning!  Thankfully, we have gotten some steady rain lately.  It rained all day yesterday, for the first time in a long time.  Puddles actually formed on the ground!  That is such a relief with winter coming up...trees and shrubs need the moisture to survive the cold to come.  Listening to the rain fall while spinning is a true joy!
'Black' Shetland yarn, ready for plying

So which state, according to the American Sheep Industry Association, has the most sheep?  Vermont?  Colorado?  That was my guess.  There are a lot of sheep in Colorado.  Nope.  It's Texas!  California comes in at second, with Colorado in third.  Where is Wisconsin on the list?  Don't know!  Way down at the bottom somewhere I suppose.

Goldie the Farm Clown

Doesn't he look like a kitten attentively attending sheepy school here?  He's actually eight years old now and I believe on his...fourth life.  Let's see...he had urinary calculi and needed surgery for that, which we tearfully funded.  So glad we did!  We love this cat and he is such a gentle soul, and an outstanding mouser.  Then, he was shot by a passerby (which we didn't figure out until later).  After disappearing for nearly two days, he was found sitting in the doorway of the barn with a nasty wound where the bullet or something went in above his eye, and out below his jaw.  Very, very happy day to find him sitting there, alive!  After healing from that, quite some time passed before his next life came up when our neighbor called us.  She had been looking at the view out their lovely windows one afternoon only to see some commotion going on in the field just out her window...straight across from our house.  Seems Goldie had been over there hunting, only to be spotted by an eagle.  The bird of prey swooped down and tried to fly off with him, dropping him before getting too high in the air!!!!!!  When he landed on the ground, he took off running and got away.  Boy, did he ever get a ton of hugs that day!!!!!

I'm so thankful cats have nine lives!  He is so useful around here and so loved, responsible for some of our most treasured farm memories and hilarious crackups.  Tonight, he's safely inside, dozing in the warmth, full with the love his family gives him everyday.  Tomorrow, he'll be back outside, swinging by his paws from the Cupcake Tree next to the coop, acting like a statue in the garden while I clean up vegetables, running and stopping along with me on my walks on the land, and riding on the stall door each and every time I open it.  Oh Goldie, we love you!  

(Goldie is the kitty from Gram's garden.)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Whoosh!

Gee, it's windy today!

But sweet little Shetland sheep don't mind!  They come from a very windy homeland, so a little wind in the heart of a massive continent doesn't faze them much.  I love how their fleeces look, blowing around.  This year, we've not had much rain so their fleeces are not as fluffy as usual.  This picture was taken last year and is of Wheely Wooly Maewyn.  This is the time of year when the wind really kicks up, as warm and cool air mix.  Leaves skitter all around, swirling in circles, blowing across the grasses, and lifting high into the air only to drift back down when the gusts weaken for a moment.

Another tree on our farm...with amazing depth of color from light green to oranges, reds, and yellows.

What a great day to spin!  Let's see, who should I spin today...coopworth?  Wink?  Maewyn?  Time to check the fleecy supply and see who's next.

On a sheepy fact note, can you guess which state has the most sheep?  (Hint:  it's NOT Wisconsin!)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Brrrrrr!

 The trees are stunning...

...but we froze anyway!  A chilly wind has swept down on us from the northwest, bringing a change in the air.   Leaving for market in the dark, with the chilly winds rocking the vehicle brought winter into focus.  As we pulled out, we reminisced about leaving home with the sun in our eyes this summer, while wearing tank tops even at such an early hour!  Our new canopy was WONDERFUL!  The sidewalls went up easily and kept us out of the worst of the chilly wind.  The purple color was bright and even brighter when the sun came out.  We loved it!  We how have more space for displaying yarn so setting up this morning was a lot of fun for me!   The woolcrow with the black coat was a busy place this morning.  Black coats sure show off our yarns nicely.  Crocheted flowers were also popular, as were some of Claire's yarn.  We are now out of the watermelon color, so if you'd like to get some and missed out, just let us know and we'll make more.  Otherwise, I might hold off on that color again until next spring.

***Special next week!  Buy two skeins of yarn or one gift pack and receive a crocheted flower free!***
(while supplies last)

And now, after being out in the cold fresh air for hours and hours, I think I'll take my next cue from Sophie...
...and get warm!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Are you ready?

The general feeling among people we talk to these days is that few are worried about winter coming!  That is surely different from other years.  The heat and drought was so strong that winter is not so much a worry, rather a relief from blazing sun, parched grass, and sweat.  How refreshing it will be to feel the cool winds and see snow coming down!  Well, for a moment anyways!  We do know that winter is inevitable, and it's coming, so I guess we better prepare for it.  Are you ready?
I've been spinning...

...and knitting...

...and rounding up all the things we'll need for winter-wear.   Are there enough hats?  Socks?  Where are they?  How about mittens?  Seems we are always needing new mittens because they get used so much, moved around so much, stuffed in pockets, lost in vehicles...and how about hats?  Does everyone still have a nice hat that matches their coats?  Don't forget scarves!  Scarves are more than wardrobe decor, they are so needed on a cold, windy day!  Do the kids have a good scarf to keep their necks warm?  Are there scarves in your vehicles in case of bad weather and a breakdown?  Do you have barn scarves lined up with your 'going away' scarves?  Do any scarves need replacing because they are pilling, have holes, look frazzled, or are cheap plastic that makes your skin break out?  

I know I love wool, but I love to have scarves for different occasions.  I have nice scarves for going away to dressier places, scarves for meetings, scarves for the barn, and scarves to wear when eating out.  Some are for outdoors (worn with or without a coat), some indoors (not usually worn with a coat), some work for both.  I have mittens in my truck, mittens stuffed in my coat pockets, and half mitts in my bag.  If it's REALLY cold, I'll wear my half mitts inside my mittens for glorious warmth! 

As the winds begin to blow the cool air into our area, it's time to begin thinking about having our warm clothes ready.  Are you ready? 









Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Maples, Rooster, Minty

Autumn can be so glorious around here on a warm, sunny day in October!  The leaves are very bright, the sky so blue!  We've had gorgeous weather with mild temps, calm winds, and quiet stillness.  Mornings are dewy, and fresh.  So nice after all that blazing sun and heat!!  We still desperately need rain though.

 Our maple tree, so glorious!

I dug pototos recently.  The ground was harder than I can ever remember.  The hard dryness is deep.  It's amazing the pototos could survive in that, but the soil wasn't like that until the drought.  Before the dry-up, the ground was fluffy and loose.  Digging them up was hard work!
 A young rooster

This little rooster is only three months old.  He's not crowing yet, but that will come.  His legs and beak are a brilliant yellow, which reminds me of my maple trees.  His bars are not bad considering where he came from, and he has a very nice rock body type.  I'm quite pleased, even if he isn't the best specimen of the breed.  His temperament is great!  All the barred rocks have the friendliest, most curious temperaments.  They are an awesome breed to have pecking around your garden and farm.  We love them.  They are very busy foragers.
Little Minty

Meet little Minty!  She's not mine, she's not Shetland, and I did not name her.  But I love her!  She is a lamb that has just been taken out of a long quarantine with a clean bill of health and integrated into the whole flock.  She needs a good, steady rain to clean up the last of the dirt from her first home.  That's hard to get with the drought this year.  She's soooooo sweet! (and she gets hugged a lot)  We are very pleased at how she has progressed and also amazed at her sudden growth spurt.  It will be fun to watch her grow!!  She's chewing her cud here...can you see the 'gumballs' in her cheeks?  Her fleece should be a really fun fleece to spin, dye, and knit up.  I'm expecting her fiber will go into lots of bright colors, and made into lots of fun mittens and socks.  Welcome little Minty! 

Now for the rest of that interesting sheepy fact.  Did you know that we have tens of thousands of sheep LESS than we used to in this country?  Did you know that with the drought the last two years, the numbers of sheep are still declining?  Did you know that the demand for lamb has increased in our country due to larger numbers of people from cultures who love lamb?  Did you know that wool is very useful in preventing fires, so the military is very interested in it?  Did you know that some of the largest aircraft companies in the world are located within our 'wool borders'?  How does America rank in sheep numbers in comparison to other countries?  To put it politely, it doesn't!  Our country is by far outranked in sheep numbers.  In fact, some of those countries are smaller than ours, yet have many tens of thousands of sheep more than we do!  According to the American Sheep Industry Association, China has the most sheep in the world.  Next is Australia, then India, then other countries far, far away.  How is it that America has soooo feeewwww sheep?  Something to ponder.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Interesting sheepy fact

It has been a gorgeous weekend here near Wheely Wooly Farm!  I've always thought that drought would brown the fall foliage but this year would certainly disprove that!  The leaves have been stunningly bright and catchy everywhere.  I spent much time outside, spending many moments just staring at the beautiful brightness...sometimes even just standing under the tree while the sun lit it up, with my mind in awe at the beauty of it all!
Swifty at the edge of LAST year's garden

Swifty loved sitting in this spot whenever he could.  When I look back at this photo, I'm amazed at how green the lawn is, how lush the flowers were, how big the pumpkins were!  It sure doesn't look like that around here this year!  Everything is brown, whole areas of lawn are dead, and the garden is just not the same.  The fall raspberries are only half as tall as usual, with tiny red raspberries hardening on the ends of the canes...not suitable for taking the time to harvest.  So I just shake them off, much to the delight of the hens waiting underneath, who promply make many happy hen noises as I send treats their way.  Thankfully, we had a nice summer crop of raspberries so we have plenty.

Today I dug potatoes and harvested another round of tomatoes that I didn't think would have matured on time.  Yum!  I've saved seed from corn, dill, sunflowers, and beans for the beanpot.  The fall garlic has already been planted with the rest in the house, and some already delightedly eaten!  I've spent a good deal of time making applesauce from apples off our tree.  The house has been filled with many, many good scents of late!  And since some of our hens went into molt early after the heat of the drought, they are starting to look pretty good again and have gone back to laying.  Great!  Molt is always a 'dry' time for eggs and comes with sadness!  So despite the drought and heat, diversity saved us.  We managed to get good things from our garden, trees, and livestock.

It seems the posts on general wool quality were much appreciated and popular posts.  I hope we were of some help in keeping your own fleeces in good order in the days to come!  There was a producer just west of here whom focused heavily on meat, but was attentive to the fleece quality on his commercial cross ewes and he was doing extremely well until the drought hit.  You do see flocks here and there where wool is just as important as meat.  It is always nice to see that.

Meanwhile, I've been spinning a lot everyday.  We'll be back at market on Saturday.  Watch for our new canopy!  Yes, we finally got a new canopy!  It's purple!  You're going to love our new set up, so come on by and see us!

Interesting sheep fact:  According to the American Sheep Industry Association, more than 4.2 million sheep were sheared in 2010!  It seems like a high number, but I remember my family talking about how in the 1950's there were thought to be somewhere between 50 and 60 million sheep in the United States.  Wow!  That's a shocking difference from then 'til now!   Where does the USA compare in total sheep numbers to other countries?  Stay tuned to find out!

Friday, September 28, 2012

General Wool Quality Cont. and market

A question came up about how to prevent so much chaff and vegetative matter from getting down to the skin line.  Preventing that is really daily management.  I know parasite experts would have a heart attack at this, but I never feed my sheep via feeders when feeding hay.  Sheep, like horses MUST have their bodies working in a certain way and there are reasons to this that are not so obvious.  As humans, we like to have our food neatly up and in it's own little place, but this actually creates problems for livestock.  We feed all of our hay on clean ground for horses, sheep and goats.  I move hay piles around to prevent excessive wear on the soil, to give options of 'feeding stations' (so that they can decide who they want to eat with or change their minds if they want), and I feed indoors if it's really muddy.  If the sheep are circled around a pile of hay, they look like spokes on a wheel.  That's exactly what you want because sheep on pasture will lift their heads and look around while eating to keep an eye out for predators or a stronger sheep.  They NEED to be able to do that.  If the sheep are around a pile of hay like spokes on a wheel, they can lift their heads and look around and the hay falls in the empty space between bodies.  Understanding this can be a tremendous tool for the shepherd who wants to raise high quality fleeces!  The worst thing you can do is bring the hay up off the ground, and force the sheep to eat in a lineup.  It's very unnatural, causes stress, and loads their fiber up with junk and matts.

Another tip is this, don't overfeed!  This is especially true with Shetlands, who carry the majority of their body weight low.  Shetland toplines are naturally bony, unlike a sheep raised with only meat in mind.  If you overfeed, all that little stuff in the hay falls in the bottom of the feeder and creates a disaster for sheep.  Sheep love to rub on things, so they rub on the feeders as they press into them to get the most hay.  Later, they rub on the feeders for a good scratch.  Sometimes they try to run through the feeders, but knock their knees and fall into the feeder.  All BAD for wool (and knees)!

To understand how to better avoid this, I took my watch out to pasture on several days and just watched how long the sheep grazed from the time I let them out, to the time they began loafing around, chewing cud, and lying down.  It typically runs somewhere between 1 to 2 hours for my flock.  Using that information, I now only feed enough hay to keep them busy for just 1--2 hours.  If you sneak a peak at them during this feeding time, things are peaceful and natural.  Sheep are taking mouthfuls, looking around, and gently changing places, just as they would if left to raise themselves.  This works great!  Why?  When I come back to check on them later, there is not a blade of hay left in sight anywhere.  They've very efficiently cleaned up every cent I paid for their meal.  Then, they lay down and contentedly chew cud.  Perfect.

Now, I have cleaner fleeces that have little or no exposure to neighborly mouthfuls or small bits of stuff getting pressed or rubbed into the wool.  There is nothing to trip through, get stuck in, or rub on.  I have efficient feeding with no waste.  I have happy sheep with cleaner fleeces.  Perfect!

Everyone has their own management style, and many different things can work great.  But if you want to raise high quality wool, you have to think about every movement the sheep make in a day that might threaten that wool.  You have to think about daily weather and ground conditions.  You have to think of vegetation in your pastures and be cautious who you buy hay from.  You also have to try mimicking natural conditions as much as possible.  It also helps to have tips on your fleeces.  Tips shed stuff, and act as a barrier to the hide. When the kids were shearing their meat lambs for fair this summer, it was easy to see how the blockier stapled fleeces were harder to keep clean.  Some sheep had skin conditions from the irritation and filth.  Others had sores from hard chaff rubbing on them.  The fleeces were very short, tangled, matted, filthy and ruined.  All of the sheep (that I saw) were fed in straight on feeders free choice hay (with waste laying in feeders and all over the ground).  Unfortunately, many of those sheep were also not healthy and came to fair in substandard condition...

Targeting high wool quality means viewing your sheep as a comprehensive animal.  Every part matters.  Every part counts.  Every day is a fleece growing day!  That's what we do, and while my fleeces are not 100% VM free, I do have very little to deal with.  I hope this answers some of those questions and that we are of some help!

Also, we are not at market this weekend due to special, different festivities that are held on this weekend each year.  It's going to be a beautiful autumn weekend with warm sun and colorful trees to enjoy!   Don't forget, you can always call or email if you know of yarn you'd like to get before we're back!   Hope you all have a wonderful autumn weekend and we'll see you next Saturday!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

General Wool Quality

We are often asked how we get and keep the high quality in our wools.  Well, I'm no expert, but after years of spinning and raising our own flock, we've come to a point where we've understood a few things about fiber and it's general quality.

Light, fluffy, soft Shetland fleece freshly handsheared

As we've traveled around to fairs, farms, and shows in our area, we come across very few Shetland sheep.  Two breeds of sheep dominate heavily in this region: Suffolks and Hamps.  Nearly every week at market, we are approached by people who either have these breeds, or have family with these breeds and their questions usually go right to fleece:  How do you get high fleece quality? Here are some answers beyond the scope of good breeding and nutrition.  Before you read on, please take note that I own the copyright to this material and that I reserve all rights to it. You do not have the right to use or replicate it for your own gain.  It's flattering that so much of my work has transpired into others' articles in sheep publications but I think it's time now for that to stop.  That said, I hope nice small flock owners will find this information useful in improving their own flock's fiber quality and we are happy to help!

The first thing we usually explain is that there are many breeds of sheep available, and that each breed has it's own fleece characteristics and qualities.  I am always amazed at how many people in my region do not know this.  The different breeds grow different types of wool.  The wool may be spongy, crimpy, blocky, wirey, cushy, dense or not dense, or extremely short, among other things.  To be successful in raising high quality wool, you need to select a breed of sheep that genetically carries high quality wool genes.  The extremely short fleeces seem to be what most people have on their sheep around here, as fleece is generally viewed as a nuisance to throw away.  That view of things, I believe, is indicative of powerful people guiding sheep production in our country  who know NOTHING about spinning, knitting, or clothing, and you never see them wearing wool.  What gets missed is that a sheep is a whole animal with very valuable qualities to it's wool.  Good wool equals good meat.  Bad wool means junky meat because bad wool means an unhealthy sheep or one raised in filth. I get questions all the time about if this wool is usable, and how can they raise quality wool.  Here is how we raise wool and I hope it helps!

First, we are very, very picky about mud.  Mud is extremely bad for wool (and the health of your sheep!).  It totally ruins the quality of the fibers so that even if the mud washes away at a later date, the fibers are already damaged and usually do not repair themselves enough to gain back high quality.  If it's wet or muddy outside, keep the sheep in!  Another good strategy is good pastures with high density of grasses.  When it rains a lot, keep them moving around on good thick grass, then they are out of the mud.  Clobs of mud in fleece attract all sorts of other problems such as flies, filth, bacteria, parasites, odor, and seems to attract vegetative matter that you certainly wouldn't want.  Mud dries out fibers, removing the natural lanolin and suint in the shaft, causing brittleness and weakness.  It stops the natural cleaning process sheep use to maintain healthy fleeces.  Mud also wreaks havoc on hooves if the sheep cannot get to dry ground.  Ongoing standing around in mud invites hoof rot, which catapults into unhealthy sheep who's bodies work is compromised and functioning at lowered levels.  That's bad for muscle, bad for fleece.   Mud is bad.

Second, watch the rain!  Good, steady, gentle rains or intermittent down pours are outstanding for fleece, especially shetland fleece!  These sheep are designed to be in rain, and need to be for health and growth of high quality wool.  If the sheep are kept in during rain, or if the sheep are jacketed, the rain cannot do it's magic on the fibers.  That's bad for Shetland wool, although I could not say if it is for other non-shetland breeds.  Rain restores moisture to the fibers, and is absorbed slowly, "cleaning out" the fibers and freshening them.  As the sheep gets wetter and wetter, they raise the fibers on their skin and give their fleeces a good hard shake like a dog.  This is extremely important to raising high quality wool!  It keeps the fleeces in high moisture without dirt or filth, helps them restore lanolin and suint to the tips, and keeps everything nice and fluffy.  This is also extremely important for healthy hides!!!  Hides need air and moisture to maintain high health, especially fresh air exchange.  Without that, suint and other gunk builds up at the base of the fibers near the 'skin', ruining the quality of your fleeces.  One bad thing about rain, especially for non-shetland breeds is felting!  Heavy, ridiculous, cloudburst type rains can ruin good fleeces in a real hurry by felting at the skin line.  This has happened to us in our crossed wether.  That is a painful loss!  If super heavy downpours are predicted, get your non-shetland sheep under a roof so that you don't have to shear felt off your hides!

Last, watch your pastures for burdock and other self-attaching menaces!  Once sticky seeds get into your fleeces, the headaches in maintaining high quality fleeces begin!  Sticky things attract all kinds of filth into the fibers while at the same time preventing the fibers from naturally cleaning.  Go out on frequent pasture walks during the growing season and either a) pull the buggers out and burn them or b) get the goats out!  Goats and sheep are not the best teammates, but goats are outstanding at keeping menaces out of your pastures, keeping them 'clean' for sheep.  Works like a charm and is a lot easier than the pull and burn method.  Also, watch your hay!  One year, a bale of hay was thrown to my ewes on a day I wasn't around and it just so happened that that bale was FULL of burdock!  Auggghhhhhh!  It was a very bad day.  Hope that never happens again!  I no longer buy hay from that source.  Look before you feed.

By following these simple guidelines, you'll be amazed at how the quality of your fleeces will improve!  Keep the sheep moving, keep them out of mud, keep an eye on your vegetation, and use rain as a tool to maintain high levels of health in your stock.  Good luck!

PS...I forgot to comment about the fleece in the photo above!  This is a freshly sheared Shetland fleece from this last spring.  Note how fluffy it is?  That's really important in maintaining high quality on the sheep and in the yarn.  Fluff is how the sheep keeps the individual fibers 'groomed by nature'.  The suint and lanolin can do it's work on each and every fiber from 'skin' to tip.  Also, notice the topline?  I often hear of and see sheep with thinned toplines, meaning that the fiber is shorter here and less dense.  That is a real problem.  I'll talk about that in another blog, but notice here how nice the topline is...dense, fluffy, with amply long fibers?  The bits of vegetative matter are extremely important here as well.  Notice how they are very small, all about the same length, and are all 'riding' near the outside of the fleece?  This indicates a fleece that is working, meaning it is 'breathing' and that the sheep was successful in keeping the debris OFF the hide, nothing is settling down on the hide and causing bad health via irritation and filth.  After I shear my fleeces, I do a general skirting and grooming on the skirting table with tips up, then I flip the fleece to tips down and give it good shakes like a wet sheep would.  Wow!  Works like a charm!!  

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's yarn! It's a fleece! No wait! It's a...


 Speckled Sussex hen!

Try saying that super fast five times in a row....er maybe not!  Isn't she pretty?  She was at the poultry show this past weekend and  I have absolutely no idea who she belonged to.  I just love how her feathers remind me of Shetland fleeces and yarn.  All that depth of color so harmoniously blending together, just like handspun yarn!  I bet she'd be real pretty in the nest box on a nice pile of bright straw.  Waaannnnnttttt ooonnnnnneeeee!

By the way...my Poygan Go-Getter did it again!  She came home in the blue, and so did her bird!  That's sayin' a lot, 'cause these people at this show know a few things about chickens.  She took Sweetie Tweetie, her Buff-Laced Polish hen who's six years old...yes, a six year old hen went a'showin!  Sweetie Tweetie got a first, AND Best of Variety!  It was another great day!  Wow!  It's been quite a year!
The 'tunies keep on playing all summer long

These bright and cheerful petunias have graced my back door window box all summer long, despite being positively BAKED in the blazing sun up to 110 degrees.  That's how hot it got on that side of the house on some of those wicked mornings, but they kept on blooming.  I wonder if you can get a chicken as cheerful-looking as these....