Saturday, February 28, 2009

Apparently, It Takes a Village

Herd Health Day went great. Everyone, except maybe the sheep and alpacas, had a wonderful time! The critters were, shall we say, reluctant participants. Shareholders Laurie, Chris and Linda joined us for the day, pitching in and generally making themselves quite useful. It was kind of an experiment to see how much of my to-do list was actually realistic. All in all, I was very happy with how much we accomplished.

We started in the sheep pens, haltering each sheep and bringing them to the walkway where I had set up the scale. It took nearly everyone to keep the sheep centered on the scale without leaning on one of us, to get a good reading. Chris has lab experience, so she was a whiz at the scale and at recording the final numbers. Now I have actual weights recorded for each sheep. Trimming nails went pretty well, though I did get a little close on one of Zacchaeus' nails. My trimmers weren't quite as sharp as they might have been, so next time, I'll need to have them sharpened - and maybe even a spare pair at the ready. It's clear we need more halter time with the sheep to keep them easy to manage.

About this time, it was dawning on me that we probably don't need to trim nails every month. I've pushed that back to a schedule where once a quarter I'll look at them, but probably twice a year trimming will be plenty. It is good to keep up with their weights quarterly too, just to make sure all is well under all that fleece.

I also need to pick a day when the wind isn't blowing 30 mph with an ambient temperature of 48 degrees. That is against the Geneva Convention, I think. We were all beat to a pulp before we finished.

After the sheep, we needed a break, so thanks to Shareholder Laurie, we all repaired to the Red Barn studio for another award-winnng quiche, cookies, and coffee. Somebody mentioned something about writing a Jacob's Reward Farm Cookbook. Hmm.... But then it was back up and out to the alpaca barn, where, mercifully, the wind was not very strong at all. The alpacas were all haltered and body scored (they feel great to me - not thin this year!) and we trimmed Moonstruck's toenails. Unfortunately, the trimmers were getting almost dull at this point, even with Ted taking a turn with them, and we decided to forgo the rest of the toes until such time as sharp trimmers may be procured. But Chris and Linda did a fantastic job holding and walking the alpacas on their lead ropes. Laurie gets credit for all the photos, because my camera never left my coat pocket! It was clear the scale isn't big enough to get all four alpaca feet on it, so we'll have to rig a platform for it, to increase its square footage. So, no weights on the 'pacas today. That will give us something to do next time.

I'm really stiff and sore from all the bending and the squeezing of those clippers. But it's that good kind of stiff and sore that lets you know you've had a very productive day outside in the fresh air and sunshine. And gale force wind.

Thanks again to friends Linda, Chris, and Laurie, for coming out and really lending a loving hand, and a special thanks to husband Ted, who, from time to time, participates with an unexpected enthusiasm and much needed talent.


Friday, February 27, 2009

The Night Before

I think I'm all set for the Herd Health Day that will start tomorrow at 10 AM. Today I raked up a lot of manure (sorry, it happens) - in fact I raked paddocks for several hours until I was afraid I'd never be able to lift my arms tomorrow, and made myself stop. Then I worked on cleaning the public areas of the house because the insurance lady from Farm Bureau Ins. was coming to work on some details of our new policy... (I really feel like a farmer now!) Add to all that coming and going to school and then taking Emma to a sleep over, which probably put 75 miles on the car, and I got a little whiney by the end of the day.

But engineer Ted helped me calibrate the new schmancy livestock scale, so that's a big worry off my shoulders. It will be challenging enough getting each of the sheep and alpacas on and off of that thing without worrying about how to make it work. I hope to get some fun pictures tomorrow. Ted is also good at that part so I may delegate the job to him.

Kind of dark to take a good picture of my new scale right now, but it's never too late to post another cute lamb picture, so tonight, here's little Eli and once again, poor Headless Kim. Eli will be easy to pick out of the flock of four because of his little brown spotted socks.
Now, I'm thinking of doing something really screwball--going to bed before 11 PM. I hear there are several parts of the world where this happens. I've never been there, but what the heck, it will be an adventure. So, here's your lamb pic - and I'll talk to you again tomorrow!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Meeting Myself Coming and Going

This has been a wild week. So many appointments and obligations. And today was oppressively hot - for February. I think we peaked at 85 degrees. That's just not right.

But nevermind - there's stuff to be done! Right now, it's all about Saturday. Some of our shareholders have RSVP-ed for our first big Herd Health day, and I'd like to make a decent impression ;-). I haven't yet even gotten my new livestock scale out of the box it was mailed here in, and I really hate surprises. So tomorrow, first thing, I'll pull it out and maybe give it a test run. Must get the forms ready to fill out the critters' weights, and make sure my toenail clippers are sharp. Fortunately, the studio is still pretty tidy from having company last weekend (whew) and I worked on the flower beds just a little bit, earlier today. The perennials are still asleep - it IS February - so they're not putting on much of a show just yet. I've even washed the halters and lead ropes that had gotten very dusty hanging in the tack room.

I do need to let people know that once they are shareholders, they aren't really company any more - they're more like family. Meaning, that on their first visit the place looks kind of nice, by farm standards. On their second and subsequent visits, they may get handed a rake or a shovel or a trowel. Just another of the many perks...

The fun news: Our friend, Kim in Bedias sent photos of the four Gulf Coast Native lambs she's raising for me to weaning. They just got their name tags punched in their ears, and boy do they look funny! Kim says Mordecai, the oldest lamb, is getting really big. Impossible to pick a favorite - or can you? Here's a picture of little Itzhak. What a doll! Sorry to cut your head off, Kim, but you know, it's all about the lambs... ;-)


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Train Up a Child

Yesterday we got to have our Godkids visit for a few hours while their parents were occupied. This was great fun for me, because I love to show kids around the farm and watch their faces light up as we move from paddock to paddock. Most kids love animals, so there's plenty to see around here. This is a picture of my Godkid, Alyssa, who has just collected her first egg. We collected about 15 before we were through, and she was busting her buttons with pride. She tramped through the barn, feed room and pasture to get all those eggs, and she had questions about all the different animals. She liked the fuzzy alpacas, and wished they liked being petted more. She had to evade the advances of the donkeys because she had the smell of apples on her hands that the donks found irresistable. She saw the group of Marans hens and Victor the rooster, and asked, "What kind of chicken is THAT?" It was a great teaching time.

Kids also are very candid about what's on their minds. She asked me when we were going to move to a bigger house. I told her that we really like our little house, and that our little house has lots of yard for our animals to live in. Oh, that made sense. She got it that we couldn't have all these cool critters if we lived where the big houses are. I think she decided that we had made the right choice.

Healthy Herd

This week I'm gearing up for our first "Herd Health Day" on Saturday when we will halter the sheep and alpacas, weigh them and trim their toenails. I've never done this all in one fell swoop before. I've just done the alpacas' nails when they looked bad, and then sheep nails when they were sheared. But I got my new handy-dandy livestock scale and I really want to get baseline weights on all the guys, and why not do it all at the same time?

This will help me (if done regularly) keep an eye on any significant changes in weight due to parasites or a change in their feeding regimen. Last year the alpacas got a bit thin because I had fiddled with their feed, but couldn't see the results through all that fluffy fiber. I've also learned a lot about "body scoring," which is a way to feel areas on their body and judge how much flesh is covering the bones. But, I like the objective measure of a scale until I get really good at the subjective measure of body scoring. And honestly, those sheep are so fluffy, I'm not sure a reliable body score can be judged through all that wool!

And it's all good halter practice for everyone, which we really need.

If you're interested in coming to be with us for Herd Health Day, please send me an e-mail (ctelisak@juno.com) and let me know how many are coming. And let me know if you would like to be on the e-mail newsletter list, because there I'll be outlining some of the "rules" for visitors on the farm. There's a waiver form to sign too, says my insurance lady.

I think it will be fun - this first time we're inventing the wheel, so please be patient with me as I work out all the logistics. Check back here, too, to get all the details about the time we'll start on Saturday.

Thanks to Laurie who took some really wonderful shots of the alpacas this past Saturday! Above is her portrait of Gideon and Solomon, who, as low men in the pecking order, have become fast friends.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Start Spreadin' the News

Yesterday, as I alluded to previously, I was visited by a wonderful new friend, Dawn, from the other side of town who has a very fun podcast called "KnitNaturally." She has a following on Ravelry, and best of all, she's a fellow groupie of my mentor, Susan Gibbs. Dawn came to learn about the farm, the CSA, the animals, and just what we are all about. I just now listened to her podcast report from her visit, and I'm so flattered by all the nice things she had to say. I'm glad she learned so much and enjoyed hanging out. I'm going to stay on her to learn to spin. She's already an accomplished knitter, so she's ready to go.

On our visit we met all the sheep, chickens, alpacas and donkeys, and spent some time in the Red Barn (which she re-named the Ladybug Lodge, because of that freak swarming I had a couple of months ago and still have a cloud of beetles in the light fixtures. Ick.) The Red Barn was recently tidied up with a huge amount of help from my friend Laurie. Laurie joined us for the visit on Saturday and provided the fantastic quiche with fresh chard from her garden. She has the Midas touch in the kitchen!

Dawn is as funny and personable in person as she sounds on her podcast - and so we had quite the time. (Jealous? I'm still laughing over her episode on the Woolie Ewe sale!) Apparently she's investigating the possibility of having her own alpacas someday in the not-to-distant future. Well, Dawn, I'm here to enab --- I mean, help. Got questions? Fire away!

They say that if you ever see a turtle up on a fencepost, you can be pretty sure he didn't get there by himself. And friends, we're doing great things here at Jacob's Reward Farm, but I'm not doing any of it by myself. Couldn't do it without my precious friends and family. Let's keep at it. As they say in Narnia, "Further in and farther up!"

Thanks for loving the farm!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sheep-Pig Hybrids Have Bad Manners

Today I had a visit from Dawn, from the riotously popular podcast, "KnitNaturally." I want to talk about what a fun day we had touring the farm, meeting the animals, and flirting with a drop spindle, but I'm falling down tired. I'll give Dawn the attention she deserves tomorrow.

In the meantime, I will also show you a mini movie where I feed the three piglet-sheep in the northwest pen. Warning: my language gets a bit salty at the end. Not my fault. Shadrach thinks he's a really fuzzy chihuahua, and jumps up with his nasty feet on my shirt. Bad sheep. Shad was born in that little hut, while I watched, nearly a year ago, and he knows he's just about my favorite. But he's a Cheeky Monkey.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Moo

My new business cards came today and I'm in love. I've always had a not-so-secret crush on all kinds of office supplies, but this might be my very favorite thing to come along in a very long time. Maybe you've seen them - a company in London, dba moo.com. They have several different products, all of them very hip and darling, but I was interested in their "mini cards."

These little morsels are indeed small, but highly cool. You can design them online with your own photos in about 10 minutes. They're narrow and rectangular, so they get a second look from customers. They have simple text on one side and full color bleed photos on the other, and here's the coolest part - they'll do as many designs as you want, in one box of cards. I narrowed down my gotta-haves to 7, and I got two boxes of 100.

Now, stand back: I'm loaded for bear.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Feeding Time

Another mini movie about life on the farm. Daughter Emma loves to help with chores. OK, well, she loves being in MOVIES about doing chores on the farm.


In other news, our four Gulf Coast Native ram lambs all have names, thanks to our awesome shareholders. Yes, I said "four." Our friend Kim had six ewe lambs and four ram lambs, and I absolutely could not let one of those rams end up in somebody's freezer. Our GC fiber flock consists of Mordecai, Eli, Ezra, and Isaac, and they will be coming home to Jacob's Reward Farm around the second weekend in May, after they are weaned. They. Are. So. Cute.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Are You Cool Enough for CSA?

You remember my mentor, Susie Gibbs from Martha's Vineyard? Well, she's hit the Big Time For Real. As if she hadn't already. Today her farm and her Cormo sheep, Martha are featured in Vanity Fair. I'm telling you, this is an idea whose time has come. I love the idea that people who read Vanity Fair might even have inner Bo Peeps who need some kind of expression. But if they want to make it tres chic to be somehow connected to the fibers they use in their hobbies and in their garments, so be it. We need everybody rolling up their sleeves.

The fact is, unless we all shoulder the commitment together to keep farmers in business, we may lose them in the foreseeable future. Today I talked to my friend Ed who works at the feed store. His wife raises Boer goats - even shows them at the state fair. But in doing his taxes, he found that he spent $10K on feed and $4k on fencing, for starters. He sold $2500 worth of goats in all of 2008. I'm no accountant, but that looks bad to me. This is NOT the definition of "sustainable." Now, imagine that hundreds of food and fiber farmers are in the same position... ruh roh.

How do we turn it around? We farmers have to work smarter, maybe smaller, and give like-minded people the opportunity to partner with us. We build friendships and community where none existed before. We slow down and figure out what's important. The old ways no longer get the job done. We use our imaginations.

And we smile when we look up and find that a CSA share is a must have spring accessory for the well-heeled green proponent.

"During"

The Red Barn studio continues its metamorphosis into a working studio and retail space. Thanks to needing it presentable for a spinning tutorial last night, I made some progress on culling some of the flotsam which accumulates with predictable frequency. The crazy place is always a mess. But I'm getting there.

New pal Nicki made great strides in her spinning last night, plying some beautiful white alpaca she bought at the TxOLAN alpaca show last weekend. Great job, Nicki!

New friend and egg customer Alta mentioned the farm in her beautiful cooking blog. Take a look here. She answered some questions I've always grappled with about hardboiling eggs. Thanks for the mention, Alta!

The CSA idea continues to snowball - I got our first eNewsletter out to a healthy list of friends and relations. Please let me know if you or someone you know would like to receive our farm news. I've posted a schedule of farm events in the newsletter, and will work on getting a calendar up on the website somehow. I'm finding cool applications everywhere to make our communication more effective, and good-looking.
Now I must go outside and do a little shepherding...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sometimes You've Gotta Get Away

I love a good retreat. Just got back, and began the unpacking process, from a great fiber love-in masterminded by my friend Mary of Fancy Fibers across town. Mary does it all - hand knits, machine knits, weaves, spins, but mostly she cranks an antique circular sock knitting machine. So she invited all kinds of fiber fans and we had a big time in the woods. The Briarwood Retreat Center was really pretty, comfortable, and had great food every time we turned around...the perfect environment to relax and unwind. I took my alpaca fiber and yarn and information on the CSA and had a great time meeting folks, teaching an impromptu spinning lesson, and talking about the farm. I even finally broke down and learned Navajo plying, which is a way to make a 3-ply yarn with one bobbin of handspun, and keep intact all the subtle color changes. Very cool, and I'm very proud of myself.

The work of our hands:

Circular sock knitting machine in action.




Spinning sparkly yarn.



Dyed roving hanging out to dry.





Brenda learns to spin!
My Navajo-plied Jacob wool yarn.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Off to the Woods

Tomorrow I'm off to a knitting and spinning retreat to take a class or two, meet some new fiber friends, and spread the news about our Fiber CSA here at Jacob's Reward. I've been working pretty steadily for a couple of weeks getting all my things together, and here it is, the night before, and I'm still gluing knitting sheep magnets together. It's good to sit down at the computer, because I'm a bit lightheaded from the fumes. Love that E-6000. Sticks anything to anything else. Amazing. But stinky.

More Gulf Coast Native lambs keep coming. Yesterday I got news that our friend Kim in Bedias had three sets of twins born after the storm blew through! We'll have our pick from several nice ram lambs, and so there will be more who need names! Buy a share of the 2009 fiber harvest, and get your chance to name the lamb!

Not sure if this retreat center has internet access, or even if I'd lug the laptop with me if it did, on top of everything else, so I may not get to check in for a few days. But so you'll not despair, I'll leave you with another fun picture of our Mordecai that I took nearly a week ago.

Later, gators.

"Before"

I'm posting this photo as a way to stay accountable for the chaos that has become my studio. True, I'm preparing for a big spinning and knitting retreat this coming weekend, where I will be peddling my alpaca rovings, various fibery gift items and accessories, and my new Fiber CSA. Stuff has been pulled out of bins and off shelves and strewn about hither and thither. But still. This is a big mess. Monday after the retreat I'll be attempting to have a spinning class in this very room, so something will have to be done about the disorder. By Tuesday, I hope to have an "After" photo for you, to show how far I've come. Long term, I hope to pare down to just the stuff I use regularly, and have a "retail" area set up at the front of the studio. I dream big.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Perfect Storm

Whew. That was close. A very big storm line pounded us earlier this evening, causing a lot of damage up in Oklahoma and even in parts of the DFW metroplex. I had heard something like this could hit, so this morning I shored up the Jacob sheep's shelter (which is an embarassing conflagration of chain link panels, baling wire and tarps -- I kid you not) in case we got the predicted hail. Sheep aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer on a good day, and you sure don't want to risk a head injury; a couple of good bonks and it's over.

But here in Parker, we seem to have avoided the worst of the squall. The sirens went off as a warning, but by God's grace, no funnel clouds appeared, no hail fell. Tomorrow morning it is going to be pretty soggy, and it will most certainly be a job for the Tall Boots. Everybody's grumpy on a soggy morning, but breakfast cheers them up a little.

Right now, it's time to head for bed and the deep sleep of someone who has been spared a really nasty night. Thank you, Lord.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Another Visit from the Stork

So, I was out in the pen feeding the alpacas and wondering what to blog about today. I came in and checked e-mail. There was a note from our friend Kim, saying that a pair of twin lambs had been born today - and she's pretty sure one is a ramboy! Woohoo! She wants to know what his name is. I've informed one of our lucky shareholders that if she wants to do the honors, she may. Waiting to hear back. I'll let everyone know as soon as I know. Still praying for one more ram lamb to round out our spring crop. In the meantime, enjoy another heaping helping of newborn lamb cuteness! (The lamb on the left with the brown markings on his legs is our guy. That is his sister on the right. Mom's name is Belle. Love the yellow eartag bling!)

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Mother and Child Reunion

After little Mordecai's procedure, and after we all had a few minutes of snuggle time with the little imp, it was time to let him return to his fretting mother, who had parked on the other side of the pasture, waiting for us to give her baby back. I set him down, and they called to each other and ran together in the perfect Hallmark Card commercial. The wind was blowing a gale -sorry about the sound. Watch...

Day Trip Diary, Continued





































Here are a few pictures from our trip down to Bedias, TX to visit our new lamb-boy, Mordecai. These pictures show some of the sights from Rose Colored Forest Farm, owned by Kim and Garth Travis. You'll see Garth and Kim, greenhouses, vegetable beds ready for planting, a bunny, cool cows, and awesome sheep....

Friday, February 06, 2009

Caution: Extreme Cuteness

Just a quick note tonight - our trip down to Bedias to meet Kim and Garth Travis, and our new lamb Mordecai, was a complete success. It made for a long day down and back, but what fun we had! Rose Colored Forest Farm is a fascinating place, and a showcase for sustainable living techniques and technology - solar panels, composting toilets, raised vegetable beds and aquaponic growing systems. The place is completely organic and homemade from head to toe. I enjoyed meeting all the farm's animal life: an ancient cat and rescue dogs, fuzzy bunnies, Dexter and Jersey cattle and Gulf Coast Native sheep. The stiff wind never stopped blowing, but the air was as warm as a day in May.

And we gently gathered up our little boy, Mordecai for his "procedure." He handled it like a pro, never letting out a peep until we set him back on his feet and sent him to rejoin his mother. I have a bit of video for you of that happy reunion, but it's late now, so I'll save that for tomorrow. Do check back - it's uber adorable.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Road Trip

Tomorrow, I'll spend about 8 hours in the car, going to and from the farm where our baby lamb, Mordecai, lives right now. He's a little ram, and he needs to be, um, relieved of the responsibilities of ram-hood. My spinner pal, Laurie, has agreed to make the journey with me, to help pass the time in the car, and to help me take pictures. Laurie is a great photographer, and a fun companion on the way. This will be fun! So, no picture tonight, but I promise I'll make up for it when we get back from Bedias, TX.

Loose the Chickens!

A quick slice of life here at the farm... in the afternoon when the danger of coyote attack is lower and the girls have had some time to lay their eggs in the coop, I let them out for a few hours of free ranging fun. They put themselves back in the coop when the sun goes down. It's an amazing thing. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Welcome Baby Mordecai

Congratulations, and my deepest thanks to my first CSA shareholder, Lee Conger, of Los Angeles, California. Lee and I went to college together and have just re-connected through Facebook. Who knew an old college buddy of mine would have a soft spot for sustainable agriculture, potential weaving yarns, and little fuzzy lambs? As the prize for buying the first Jacob's Reward Fiber CSA share, Lee got to name our first Gulf Coast Native lamb.

Lee chose "Mordecai," after a pivotal figure in the biblical story of Queen Esther. Way to go, Lee! That is a name of excellence. I pray little "Cai" grows up to be instrumental in building our fiber crop into something utterly exquisite.

L'chiam!


Clouds of Smooshy Goodness

The 100% alpaca yarn arrived today that I sent off to the processor last fall. Let me just say, it was worth the wait. Six plus pounds of off-white light-worsted goodness you will not believe until you grab ahold of a skein or two.

I think this yarn will go to the Fiber Fun retreat two weekends hence, since there will be dyeing going on. I'm thinking there will be folks at the retreat who will not be able to resist this alpaca softness and have to use it in the dyeing workshops. Any yarn left over after the retreat will come home and perhaps end up in MY dye pot.

Start dreaming of your next project, friends, because this stuff is calling your name...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Name the New Baby

This baby doesn't have a name yet. I will give my first CSA shareholder the privilege of naming Baby #1 with the Bible name of his/her choice, as long as we don't already have that name in use here at Jacob's Reward. Step right up, folks - buy a share and name the baby!

I got the call the other day that our first Gulf Coast Native ram lamb was born, and yesterday, the breeder, Kim, sent me this photo. That's Baby #1 with his mom, Dotty. It's Dotty's first baby, and I'd say she did a champion job, wouldn't you? We hope to get a total of three little boys from this breeder's crop this year. They will all be wethered (neutered) so that their only agenda item each day of their lives will be to grow wonderful wool. Looking at Dotty, I think we'll be very pleased. Next year's wool crop will have a nice Gulf Coast Native component. GCN sheep are a rare breed, beautifully suited to our hot, humid climate, plus they grow very nice fiber.
Buy your share here: www.jacobsreward.com/jr_csa.htm

Monday, February 02, 2009

Pearl of Great Price

I find myself in possession of a precious treasure. Many people have told me how valuable this treasure is, and I have basked in the blessing of owning and enjoying it. But it's time for me to stop hogging it all for myself. It's time to share. Share the bounty, the beauty, the labor, the harvest.

The treasure is, of course, The Farm. So many of my friends have told me how awesome it is to be able to come out here and clear their city-cluttered minds and hearts, and drink in the peace and earthy richness of The Farm. So, today, I'm announcing a new program here at Jacob's Reward where people can participate in the life of the farm, sharing in its labor and in its reward.

Through the Community Supported Agriculture model, you can now buy a "share" of the Jacob's Reward's fiber harvest, and enjoy lots of farmy pleasures along the way. I've put a lot of information on the website, so, if this piques your interest -- if you feel a tug on your heart to become a laborer with me in this homesteading adventure and share the harvest -- jog over to the website and read all about it. There's enough in this abundant world for all of us!