Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick...

The clock is ticking toward the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I leave Friday morning and there are still a million or so things to do and nail down before I go. They'll just have to wait a couple of minutes...

This morning's "Ambidexterous Knitting" class with Lucy Neatby was a blast. I think I mentioned how hard it is to get a few minutes to sit quietly and knit anymore. Anyone else have that problem? Ahhhh, what fun to sit with a bunch of great knitters and tackle new challenges. (I got to sit next to Rockstar Tasha and commiserate over the sticky bits.) Because this past year I almost completely converted to Continental-style knitting, the class wasn't too tough, and I enjoyed the process. Lucy is simply delightful - I could have learned from her for days. Alas, I didn't have days to devote. But I got a great handout, so if I forget what we went over quickly today, I have notes to refer to. Lucy has a fantastic bunch of teaching DVDs available.... but, alas, baby needs a new stretch of fence.

OK - I need a trumpet fanfare please: Let's all jump up and welcome our newest shareholder Jenny, from Seattle! Tum-ta-da!!! Welcome, Jenny! We're delighted to share our fiber harvest and our farm fun with you!
Friends, you are involved with a very exciting new kind of agricultural commerce. In this farming model, none of us is strictly a consumer - we are all producers, and we grow in community and fellowship at the same time that we enjoy a fiber product. Value is not just measured in dollars and ounces; it's measured in connected friends, and in peace of soul. Come out to the farm for our next event and see for yourself.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Star Struck Knitter

This week, I'm hanging out with the Big Boys - metaphorically speaking. Actually, most of them are women.

Tomorrow morning, I'll have the privilege of taking a knitting class from renowned knitter, Lucy Neatby at the Woolie Ewe yarn store in Plano. Lucy has a fantastic reputation and I am very excited to get to spend three hours actually knitting. And learning something new. The class is called "Ambidexterous Knitting" which I take to mean using both hands and doing colorwork. Colorwork is something I've not tackled yet -- I love the little bit of lace and cables I've done, so now it's time to try color. Should be tons of fun. I have my homework done (pictured): 90 stitches and 4 rounds of garter on a 16" size 6 needle. Looks like the beginning of a baby hat?!

Then, I've really decided to go to the big party in Maryland on Saturday night. This is turning out to be what I'm anticipating most about the trip. My pal Susie Gibbs will be there and has promised to introduce me and our CSA at the party -whoa. (Verclempt!) Plus the Ravelry Trio will be there: Casey, Jess and Mary-Heather.... plus lots of knitters and designers I recognize from Ravelry: Ysolda (cool hats!), Svetlana of the incredible-sweater-a-month blog... and others. It occurred to me just in time to send a door prize on ahead for the party and get some sweet PR! And now I think I'd better spend a couple of hours printing up some home-made business cards and postcards to give out wherever I go this weekend. Dude. I'm going to be walking around that place like a nine-year old backstage at a Miley Cyrus concert.

One interesting difference: my heroes are all 20 years younger than me. Sigh. Well, I might be slow, but I'm worth waiting for ;-). And I'm not too old to learn something new.

Shearing Day Hangover

I am still coming down off that shearing day experience. I'm not sore, but still a little tired, and still quite bemused at what we went through! Our Chris sent me a link to her Flickr set - the group of pictures she took at shearing. She has captured some serious Kodak moments, my friend, let me tell you. (In this photo I've featured, we see Zack giving us his very best Sir John Gielgud as Hamlet moment. Kate and I, meanwhile, invented our very own unique shearing technique.) Thank you, Chris for giving me permission to share these.

The day-long deluge they predicted today was curtailed by a good strong west wind. We got some rain with thunder and lightning, but the system moved east early in the day and didn't cause any trouble around here. There's more rain in the forecast, in fact, through the middle of next week, but so far, the mud isn't a huge issue. You know how I feel about mud.

Sometime in the next couple of days, a nice gentleman from the Keller area will be coming by with his trailer to pick up Moses and Aaron. It breaks my heart that we had to sell them, but looking at the big picture, it just wasn't going to work long term. And of course, the past couple of days they have been acting all cuddly and particularly endearing. That doesn't help. I arranged the sale days ago, and am just now starting to feel really sad about it. But when our new alpacas come in June, we'll need all the pasture we can get. So you'll know, Moses and Aaron will be going together to live on a very big ranch in southern Oklahoma to live with a nice family with kids to love on them and keep them very busy. That helps.

From now until Thursday I'm getting ready for the big trip to Maryland. I guess I'm still a bit in denial that the Festival is this next weekend! I'm just about gathered up. But it seems like such a different universe, I have to sit down and close my eyes and imagine what all I'll see and do, so that I can reasonably anticipate everything I'll wish I had brought. I did buy a ticket to the big Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm After Party in Columbia, MD on Saturday night. We'll see if I actually make it, but it sure sounds like fun. Rumor has it that Ravelry's Casey and Jess will be there, along with my mentor, Susie Gibbs and all her CSA groupies. How cool is that?

Here on the farm, all is well. The lambs are growing more and more every day. I'm wondering if it's time to increase their feedings - those two can suck down 2 bottles each in less time than it takes me to mix up the milk replacer. I'm still working toward the day when I can get them out with the big sheep on grass. That will help them wean much faster. Elsewhere on the farm, 'pacas are good, chickens are good, everybody's good. The Red Barn is bursting at the seams with freshly shorn fiber. After Maryland, it's fiber processing in earnest.

'Night friends - it's past my bedtime again.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

We Celebrate a Milestone and Begin a New Week

Just a few thoughts before I tuck it in for today:

It's been just three short months since I sat down with my mentor, Susie Gibbs, of the Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm, over coffee in a Ft. Worth Barnes and Noble. I'm so happy with where we've come as a farm and as a community. I have some really wonderful new friends - shareholders, egg customers, spinning students - that I wouldn't have, without the opportunity to visit with Susie and think through my business plan, and dream about what Jacob's Reward might become. And we are totally on our way.

This coming week I'm putting the final preparations together for my annual pilgrimage to Fiber Mecca: The Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. Again, I'll join other members of the Jacob Sheep Conservancy as we share our products with the fiber community on the east coast. It's going to be a blast. Also on the agenda is a meet-up of all the MVFF fans, and you know I'll be first in line. Have to eat a Gyro - too good to be "fair food" so I make it a point to enjoy that at the festival. It's a family reunion for me when I go to Maryland, as I get free lodging at my niece and nephew's house in Frederick. None of my spinning buddies was able to come with me this year, so it will be lonely in the rental car going to and fro. But I should have lots of fun stories when I return. Watch this space...




Saturday, April 25, 2009

Shearing is 83% Complete with No Fatalities

I'm putting a hashmark in the "success" column for today's shearing.

At 9 AM, Shareholder Chris arrived and after some last minute organizing, we started our shearing. Ted, Chris and I started on Tommy the Jacob sheep because we figured he'd be one of the easiest fellows to tackle. My make-shift shearing stand is actually a wooden, home-made goat milking stand I got on Craig's List, as an alternative to the metal stand I got on eBay with a faulty head piece. We used the wooden one last year for several sheep and it worked fairly well. Getting Tommy's horns into the goat stand head-holder-thingy was a little challenging, but worked fine in the end. Tommy's shearing went so well, I forgot to get my camera out to document it. Wow, I thought, this year is going to be a piece of cake.

I did get some shots of Ted and Chris working on Israel, the larger of the two Jacobs. As we got his wool off, we could see that he has been eating just fine, thank you very much, and all those plaintive cries for more food have been just pure greediness. But even though he's nicely fleshed out, he looks so small without his fleece! Using the electric clippers really improved the finished look of those two sheep. Much less of the "Early Weedeater" style they have gotten the last two years. As usual, we filled a trash bag with Israel's charcoal gray, soft, wooliness. After each sheep got his haircut, he also got a CDT shot from Chris, and a pedicure. Full spa treatment, so to speak.

Shareholder Kate arrived and joined in the festivities. It was time to drag out big ol' Shadrach, the Suffolk boy. Shad had never been sheared before so we knew he'd have to learn how to deal with this obnoxious new activity. Early into his shearing, we noticed that the blade (singular) in the electric clippers was beginning to get dull. Note to self: get a spare blade or two, and get them sharpened right after shearing is finished, to be ready for next year. The job got much harder, and it was clear that the day would be longer than I had anticipated. My arm and shoulder were getting really tired from pushing that clipper into the wool over and over. Ted, Chris, and Kate helped out by using the hand shears when they could, to attack the fleece from different angles.

Friend Mary Berry arrived for a quick visit, with her friends Ge'mar and Jenny. How wonderful that they could see first hand how all this sheepy stuff actually gets done.

Then it happened.

I realized as I was grinding away on Shad's back end, that I had inadvertently taken a pretty good size piece of skin away with the last pass of the clippers. Oh. My. G... Now, I have nicked a sheep in the past before, but this was a big hole. It wasn't bleeding badly, but I couldn't decide the best course of action. Yesterday the thought had occurred to me that I might like to have a tube of SuperGlue at the ready, but the thought vanished as soon as it had come and I totally spaced it out. Now I wished I had it. Chris reminded me (my head was spinning and I was kind of paralyzed) that I had TriCare ointment, which might be a good idea. I got it and applied it. But as time went on, I really didn't like the look of that hole. Chris again (vet-tech wannabe) suggested that maybe I could sew it up. Sure, can't hurt. So I dashed into the Red Barn for a curved needle and black thread. I just put a few stitches in to close up the hole, and we'll watch it and pray for healing. I've never done that before. Wow. I did it. Wow.

But, the gash took a toll on my confidence, and I found myself really having to MAKE myself continue with the shearing. I was all of a sudden afraid. But thankfully, I was surrounded by lots of great friends who encouraged me, and I pushed into my doubt. It wasn't the last nick I delivered to the sheep today, but I kept plowing. The job had to get done. Kate really helped a lot by letting my arm rest, and taking turns with the clippers herself. Chris helped with the hand shears, and Ted was right there in my corner.

Once we got Shadrach back into the pen (and he does look very handsome from a distance, if you don't see that big wound on his butt), I decided it was time for a break. Ted left to run some errands, and Kate and Chris and I retired to the Red Barn for the traditional quiche and coffee. Ahhhh. It felt SO GOOD to sit down. Once we got our energy back, we jumped back up to finish Sheep Number Four - Zacchaeus.

Now, Zach (the Tiny Tank) had never been sheared before, either, so this was a new experience for him. We got him out of the pen easily enough, but once out in the yard, he decided that "playing dead" was his coping method of choice. He laid down on the grass and closed his eyes. We had no choice but to go get the green wagon, hoist him up into it, and head for the shearing stand. However, once in the wagon, he changed his tack and tried to jump out. Ultimately, we sat him on his butt, and I held him up while Kate pulled the wagon across the yard. I hope Chris shares her photo of this momentous event some time. Once we got him near the shearing stand, we decided to take the clippers to his tummy and inner thighs right there in the wagon, since we had him in the perfect position. He wiggled a little but mostly he laid his head on my shoulder, closed his eyes, and prayed a little sheepy prayer that all this would just go away.

We moved him (no small feat) to the shearing stand to work on the rest of his body, when he decided he'd just lay down again, tucking his four legs under his rolly-polly body. All of us intrepid shearing ladies were getting tired by now, and it was getting into the afternoon. Kate and I took the shearers to his back, sides, and as much of his neck as we could reach, but it was clear that the electric clippers had gone beyond the point where they were effective. We picked at him for a little bit with the hand shears and then we ran up the white flag.

We pulled/pushed him back to his pen and turned him loose. He looks, frankly, atrocious. But I hope to finish his haircut tomorrow. The boy is for sale on Craig's List, and I can't really sell a half-sheared sheep that looks like he was clipped by a blind landscaper. At least he's cooler. My word, as we took the wool off his back the heat that came off him would have poached an egg. He must have been miserable.

So. Day One of shearing is over and the Red Barn is even MORE full of fleece bags. Lots of skirting and washing in store.

If you see Kate or Chris, please give them a big hug for me, but don't shake their hands too firmly --the will probably wince. I worked them hard. Thank you ladies, from the bottom of my heart. And a big shout out to Ted, who once again proves his mettle by being there for me even when the jobs are really, really, icky.

My full set of photos from today is here: http://tinyurl.com/cm26o9

Friday, April 24, 2009

We're a Go for Shearing Tomorrow!

The weather held. At least for the moment. This IS Texas, and anything could happen between now and 9 AM tomorrow, but right now, I'm going to go out on a limb and say - let's do it. The poor sheep have really been acting uncomfortable in this week's unseasonable heat. It's time to free them from the WOOL!

The photo here is of my hand shears, which I used exclusively the first year I sheared the two Jacobs. But last year when I knew I also had the three Suffolk cross ewes, I knew the hand shears just wouldn't, uh, cut it. (Sorry.) So I have invested in a set of electric shears which should make a decent morning's work out of de-fleecing our four wooly boys.

I'll set up the skirting table and maybe we can make a bunch of progress getting those fleeces ready to wash. There's no reason we can't get that stuff a lot cleaner before it goes off to the processor.

The Red Barn is in its usual state of flux - the floor is covered with bags of alpaca fleece, plus bags of the beautiful batts I carded this past week, all ready to go to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival next weekend. I did take a few batts and some alpaca yarn to the DFW Fiber Fest, so if you plan on going, you might check out the Fiber Circle booth at the end of the hall to see the fiber I'm talking about. I dropped by there shortly today and ran into so many fiber friends from around the state: Deb Sharp from the TX Fiber Mill, Suzanne Correira from Fire Ant Ranch, Troy Ogilve and his wife who raise gorgeous alpacas, lots of friends from the Wildflower Fiber Retreat... it's always Old Home Week. In a regrettable but predictable impulse moment, I grabbed 7 balls of yarn off the $2 table while I was at DFW. Is there a vaccination for this problem I have? Jeepers.

So, back to tomorrow. If we have time and energy after shearing, there are a few odd jobs we might tackle, or, we might retire to the RB (Red Barn) for some AC, coffee, and knitting. Who knows. Be ready for anything.

Must sign off now so I get enough sleep to get up and dressed before you guys pull up to the house tomorrow! Smack!

Too Much Nature

I wrestled with whether or not to write about today's big excitement, for fear no one would ever come back to the farm. But I've decided in the interest of full disclosure to let you know that today when I let the coop chickens out, and began to gather up the eggs, that I found a POACHER in the nest. Yes. A big o' rat snake was trying to eat one of my eggs. Not a venomous snake, but still. Wrong place - wrong time.

Now, as much as I appreciate everyone's role in the food web, this snake was in MY food web, and I just can't stand for that. I ran and grabbed a flat shovel and tried to, um, (trying to be sensitive to my readers...) permanently immobilize him. My efforts were less than satisfactory so I pulled my phone out of my pocket with one hand while pinning the snake in the nest box with the shovel with my other hand. I called Emma on the land line in the house and had her come help me get better tools. I will spare you the blow by blow, but it was pretty exciting. Heart pumping, lots of adrenaline. Emma was pretty grossed out, but she hung tough. We won in the end, except I broke two eggs in the effort. Grrr.

So now, gentle reader, friend of the farm, be assured that when you come to Jacob's Reward, nothing will cross your path that I won't be willing to jump up and protect you from it. I have sharp tools, and I'm not afraid to use them. Just call me Indiana Telisak.
BTW, did you know snakes smell really wretched? P.U.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Oh, the Tangled World Wide Webs We Weave...

Yesterday I promised you a list of all the fascinating sites where you can find Jacob's Reward Farm, and me, the humble shepherd. Here's my sort-of chronological journey into social media sites:

I believe it all started with Ravelry. Thirty-something couple Jes and Casey dreamed up the most incredible... what?... knitting data base / community / marketing venue / wicked-cool internet site for knitters (and others) ever conceived. Spinner-pal Liz pestered us until we all finally signed up. Whoa. Not a moment too soon. In my opinion, this venue stands alone - in good looks, intuitive operation, comprehensiveness, potential, and fun. Nothing else comes close. I met Jes and Casey (and Mary-Heather) at last year's Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, and I told them what I thought of their site. I slobbered a little out of sheer awe, which was kind of embarassing. If you knit and you're not on Ravelry - well, I can't express to you in words how much you're missing.

Etsy. I have a small Etsy shop where I sell a few of my farm products - notably my knitting sheep magnets, and some miscellaneous things I used to schlep to various retreats and craft shows. When we get our fiber shares distributed, I may work on selling any leftover fiber through that shop. Etsy is also a beautiful site that glories in all things handmade and artsy. You can browse a long time there, spend a bunch of money, and come away inspired and maybe a bit intimidated. It's a very pretty site. I have not fully plumbed its potential as a marketing venue.

Then I learned about LocalHarvest.org where lots of my organic veggie farmer friends had listings. There are a lot of fiber people on LH as well, so I had fun writing up that listing. There's even a rudimentary blog associated with it, and I've learned that enough people read that site, that I should keep up my blog every so often. I have several good egg customers who found me through LH. Worth the time and little bit of money to plug the farm there.

Next, came Facebook. What started as a simple way to keep track of my sisters and nieces soon became a time-sucking obsession as I re-connected with college pals, old church friends from Tulsa, and folks from other random areas of my life. I had resisted Facebook for a long time, thinking it was just a hook-up site for college kids. Wrong. I have to admit some really fun times reliving my college years - 30+ years ago. Those walks down memory lane notwithstanding, I find Facebook to be terribly difficult to figure out, and frustrating to get it to do what I want. But, our first Shareholder came through my associations with Facebook, so I'll stick with it. You just never know...

I have profiles at several sites that right now seem pretty similar. I'm not quite sure how much time to invest in these: CattleGrowers.com, HobbyFarm.com, FarmersfortheFuture.com. I even learned that Spin Off Magazine was starting its own on-line community, and I signed up, but haven't been back more than once or twice. A new one, AlpacaSocial.com, seems to have lots of fun potential to hook up with other alpaca breeders, but probably not many potential shareholders.

Then there's Twitter. What in the heck is Twitter? I've seen people I'm "following" use it various ways: as a 140-character stream of consciousness journal, which usually gets pretty boring after a while, or as a quick way to post links of interest - stuff they've found on the net, or stuff they "re-tweet" from other Twitterers. It's getting a reputation for posting relevant stuff that gets you lots of followers. I have actually "unfollowed" someone because they spammed everyone. Bad form. I can use Twitter to direct people to the blog, by featuring a link to a fun blog post. I have so much to learn!

The newest place I found, thanks to our friend Mary, is Vimeo.com - a place to upload videos, kind of like YouTube, but with strict rules about what can get uploaded - nothing commercial. It's the video version of Etsy - it all must be home made. Good production values here. I'll be spending more time there in the future.

The crowning glory will be when I get everything together to start The Farm Podcast.

I know I can't do everything, and so I'm trying to learn which areas have the greatest return per hour of sitting at the computer, to build up the farm.

I'd be very interested to hear about your experiences in the jungle of Social Media sites.... please comment! Got any good places I haven't found yet? Any to stay away from? Which is your guilty pleasure as you surf the net?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Social Media - Friend or Foe?

I've spent quite a while today posting, commenting, adding content, and surfing lots and lots of "social media" sites today. I think I have profiles at 10 or 11 different sites. So for the moment, I am wondering - what social media sites do you like? Which ones seem fun or helpful? Which ones are less-than-helpful? Tomorrow I'll give you the run down on where you can find me ALL OVER the web. I'm on a crusade to promote the farm and our CSA. It's too good of an idea to keep it under wraps, eh?

For now, I'm going to begin my new discipline of getting to bed before midnight. Stop snickering.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Festival Time!

I've been preparing for the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival by carding alpaca/Jacob batts, printing up info sheets, gathering other farm products, announcing the booth on Ravelry and other on-line venues, and by streamlining the daily chores so that Ted can pinch hit for me while I'm gone. That's in two weeks.

Today I learned that I have the opportunity to display my CSA board this weekend at the DFW Fiber Fest in Addison. I had thought my chances were nil to have a presence there, but our friend Diane from Fiber Circle in Farmersville graciously offered me a little corner of her booth. So now I'm putting fliers together for folks to learn more about the farm and what we do.

I really appreciate all you do to get the word out about Jacob's Reward Farm. It's still a relatively new idea in the fiber world, but catching on, and growing every day. Don't you know that if folks could hang with us just one Saturday while we play with fiber and fiber critters, that they'd be completely hooked? (Laurie's quiche doesn't hurt anything either!)

At our Easter Egg Hunt, visitor Kim Harrison took the darling picture of the lambs up there at the top of the post. Beautiful, isn't it? Kim and her son Parks got the full tour that day - Parks even helped feed the donkeys. Kim posted lots of fun pictures from the Easter Egg Hunt on her Flickr page. You guys are getting all the good shots of the farm lately - THANKS! And thank you for letting me pilfer through them for blog posts! ;-)

Please let me know if you have any ideas about how the farm can be more... fun. Any events you'd like to see? More services we could provide? (I don't do laundry or windows... just sayin'.)

I'll keep saying this, but I'm aiming at Saturday for the sheep shearing. And then I'll be working on getting all of our fiber cleaned up and ready for processing. Spinderella's turn around time is still pretty good right now, so the sooner we get the fiber to Lynn, the better.

I'm dying to spin! Carding all those beautiful batts is really giving me the itch. Some of them have sparkles! And I actually picked up my knitting needles over the weekend and came closer to finishing Emma's little bolero top. Must keep in touch with the fiber... Is it time for a SPIN IN?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Gulf Coast Lamb Update

We're back on track: today, after the big weekend storms blew through Texas and states north, the weather was gorgeous again. And the pens and pastures were drying out enough that I was able to enjoy the chores again. I had the added delight of coming home from a meeting at church to find that Ted and Emma and a couple of her friends had let the chickens out, fed the lambs, and moved their pen to clean grass. I was thrilled. After yesterday's malaise stunted my joy and productivity, this all was a great boon.

I had a gem in my e-mail inbox today, too -- our friend Kim down in Bedias sent this update on the lambs today:
"Greetings,

I thought I would let you know how your lambs are doing. Mordecai is gorgeous, large, beefy with a lovely coat. He stands so proud, showing himself off. Makes me sad that he is [wethered]. He is almost as large as his momma.

Ezra is doing well, Millie has had no problems nursing, even with her leg. Her leg has the splint off now and she is walking with a minimum limp. He is growing well, and he too has a wonderful fleece.

Eli is small. It looks like Belle went dry early, but both her lambs are eating pellets and grass. We tried to bottle feed both twins, when we realized her bag was getting smaller. Eli fought so hard, he choked himself. A couple of rounds of that and we quit trying. I wanted to help him, not kill him. However, I have had small lambs before, they still grow full size, they just take a little longer to get there. His twin, Bonnie took the bottle for a while, then quit. Now all the flock is together again and she sees Dinah and Dorothy with their bottle, she wants one too. Eli is the best lamb for getting under the ewes and getting at the pellets. The ewes want them for themselves, but he gets his share and more, everytime.

We are looking forward to seeing you again, May 9th.
Bright Blessings,
Kim"

It occurs to me that May 9 is only 3 weeks away. That's the day we take a borrowed trailer down to Bedias to pick up the three boys. Holy cow. Before we know it, there will be a whole (small) flock of Gulf Coast Native sheep here! How cool that the little guys have done so well down in Bedias after that horrible dog attack. The fleeces on my two bottle babes are really, really soft; I am very excited about how they'll be next year when we shear them.

Ted and I talked today about how to put together a workable fiber washing set-up, so we can save a little on the processing costs. It would be awesome to send washed fiber to the mill. This setup may consist of a hose run from the utility sink in the laundry room out to the backyard, to get hot water to some bins set on a low table to wash the fiber. I told him I'd like to keep an eye out for a garage-sale washing machine to have something to spin out the fleeces between wash and rinse bins. Then we can set up the skirting tables to dry the fleece.

It's the looming sheep shearing that has me really concentrating on getting our fiber cleaned up and outta here, off to Spinderellas, our fabulous processor. Because the sooner the fiber goes out, the sooner it comes back!

So if you're cruising Craig's List or driving by garage sales in good neighborhoods, keep me in mind! (Our shopping list: Washer, big plastic bins, low table, light saw horses, margarita machine... oops, um, just kidding.)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mud Monsters

This is not the first time you've heard me complain about mud. It is my persistent, wheedling, wear-me-down, energy-sapping adversary. Mud makes everyone on the farm grumpy. Mud gets the chickens' feet dirty, which makes the eggs muddy. Ew. The donkeys roll in the mud - it helps keep the flies away, but then as it dries, the donks rub on things to scratch it off. The alpacas walk around boggy places in their pen and generally act like me - like we're swimming in molasses. Everybody moves in slow motion...

I really need to conquer this.

Mud happens mainly in the spring and fall, so there are whole seasons where I don't have to deal with it. And in the summer, we're more likely to complain about the lack of rain, than the overabundance of it. And what farmer in her right mind complains about rain? No rain, no pasture. No rain, no vegetables. No rain, no beautiful wildflowers. No rain, big water bills. So I know rain is a valuable thing-- a gift from God. And I'm so grateful for the fact that, well, the creek didn't flood. That's a good thing.

But the mud....

I keep telling myself that mud is just a sign that I need to make changes in the materials on the ground around here. I need gravel in the driveway, more grass in the bare spots in the pasture, and maybe some mulch along my most traveled walkways. That would all help. Nothing that some time, money and energy wouldn't solve.

If you could help me locate a large load of those three things, at a wholesale price, I'd appreciate it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Made My Day

Got this beautiful handmade multi-media image in the mail today from young Ian (seven years old). He wanted to thank us for the fun he had at the Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday. Wow. What wonderful manners! And not a bad artist. Thank you, Ian, for the beautiful picture. I'm very excited that you had such a good time that you were moved to respond with artistic expression. That's very cool. We will display it proudly here at Jacob's Reward Farm, don't you worry!

This Saturday's plans are up in the air. Because the weather is iffy, I'm not going to really expect to be able to shear the sheep. I think I've also been invited to participate in a Farmer's Market at a swanky shopping area near here in the morning, but I haven't received any details. Everything is pending. Ain't that like life?

What are YOU doing this weekend? Wanna come play?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Revolution

Ms. Susan Boyle, the middle-aged Scottish singer who is scorching the internet with her YouTube'd performance on Britain's Got Talent, has touched a raw nerve in viewers around the world. What is it about this frumpy lady with a golden throat that has compelled over two million people to watch her boldly face down a cynical audience and a panel of jaded judges, and gobsmack them all with her startling performance?

Quite a lot, actually.

First, there's her unassuming appearance. This is not a woman who has aped Hollywood starlets in a pathetic attempt to look the part of a successful performer. She's simply the "spinster from the village" who lives with her cat. A more unlikely candidate for stardom you could not find. I cringed as I watched her wiggle her hips at Simon--I was embarassed for her. She reminded me of that kid in 5th grade who always got picked last for the Red Rover team; someone who often tried to be clever but never succeeded. She reminded me of myself when I was that kid. I felt the familiar reluctance to sit by and watch the train wreck actually unfold. What is she going to do? I could hardly bear to watch.

And then she began to sing.

I reacted just like the audience and the judges did - with shock and remorse. Shock at the beautiful voice that belted out that beautiful song, and remorse for my horrible prejudice that had been turned on its ear. Like many others, I choked up and cried.

Her choice of music is fascinating. I've loved the soundtrack from Les Miserables for over twenty years - I had it memorized before I ever saw the show. It inspired me to read the book for the first time. Haunting and compelling, exhilarating and tragic. The song, "I Dreamed a Dream" expresses the lost hope of a young woman whose life is shattered by war - the Paris Uprising of 1832. And I note the atmosphere in our country this very day, April 15, when hundreds of angry Americans attended "Tea Parties" to protest what they feel are abuses of power, unfair taxation, and scandalous bailouts by our government. A Grassroots Uprising.

Is this why so many people have watched and re-watched this YouTube video? Are we feeling like victims of the economic and political situation, and need the powerful voice of an underdog as a rallying point? Do we feel powerless to save our dreams in the face of circumstances we can't control?

Or do we just love it when Simon gets his flippin' clock cleaned by a simple girl from the Scottish countryside?

Hmmmmm.

"Do you hear the people sing,
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again.
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums,
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!"
--from Les Miserables

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

SuperCarder

In the fiber world there are process people (who love the journey), and product people (who endure the journey to get to the destination). I am decidedly a product person, but occasionally I have a whole lot of unexpected fun along the way. Like today...

My friend Jes owns the biggest, baddest electric drum carder this side of a professional fiber processor - the (tum ta ta!) Patrick Green SuperCard. I was needing the services of a powerful drum carder so I called Jes and she has graciously offered to let me use her boss machine (for a very fair negotiated fee). I'd never used an electric carder before so today she gave me a lesson and I got some beautiful fibers blended. I am making alpaca/Jacob blend batts at a ratio of 75%/25%. And I'm taking them to sell at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival on the first weekend in May.

They are coming out delicious. Because I'm blending fiber that has already been processed into roving, the batts only need one pass on the drum carder. That helps a lot. Mostly today I did black alpaca with light Jacob, but I am going to try different combinations. I have light and dark Jacob to blend with fawn, black, or dark reddish brown alpaca. Lots of potential combinations. I'm also toying with the idea of adding sparkle to some of them. Whatcha think?

I own my own manual drum carder, but as I say, it's a very tedious journey to the destination, and this electric drum carder really takes a lot of the just-shoot-me-now tedium out of the job. Lots more immediate gratification when you see that finished batt. Yummm. Now, don't go jumping to any conclusions - I have no intention of ever buying one of these honkin' carders. I hardly ever have to card large quantities of fiber, and if I have to do a small quantity, I will drag out my own manual Strauch carder. But time is short to prepare for MDS&W, so I've called in the cavalry on this one.

If I have fiber left over after the festival, you'll be the first to know of its availability. I really love batts. These are... wonderful.

Do You Dare to Dream?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY

This YouTube video is making the rounds today, and with blinkin' good reason. If you haven't seen it ten times already, give it a look. If you need the inspiration to revive an old, discouraged dream, or if you're wondering if you ever had a dream... maybe this will bring it back to life.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Slow News Day at the Farm

After our big weekend, we're back to the normal, everyday routine. Monday's are usually quiet compared to having Ted and Emma home all day on the weekends. I usually try to catch up on housework and do some surface organizing. A little wood grain is peeking out from my desk, and if I can keep working, I hope to see the floor of the office again someday. Entropy is my nemesis. The world naturally moves toward decay and degradation. Too bad. Wouldn't it be a hoot to wake up one day and find that things had reversed -- that when you left stuff on shelves they gradually became LESS dusty? Or that odd socks found their way back to their mates in the sock drawer and that junk mail found its way into the trash by itself? Piles of beer cans would sort of evaporate out of the gutters, cars would gradually begin to shine after a drive in the rain, and over time, dust bunnies would disintegrate under the sofa. Now, that would be a nice change.

In the meantime, we march on, cleaning the bathroom floor even though we know we'll need to do it again in a few days.

My friend Peggy came over today to visit her friend Shadrach and to drop off some fiber. She really loves Shad and took a lovely picture of him (top left). Of course, he's pretty photogenic for a silly ol' meat sheep. But He Who Will Never Go Into the Freezer feels awfully smug and entitled most of the time, and chats with passersby regardless of the hour, or whether or not his opinion was solicited.
Tomorrow is the big Day at the Carder. I'll have lots of lovely batts to show you when I get home. I'll leave you with a cool picture Peggy took of the footprint of one of her alpacas. They do leave their mark, don't they? In our hearts, I mean. In our hearts.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

An Overflowing Fount of Joy

That's what this farm is. We had a Guiness-certified world-record-setting great time today at Jacob's Reward Farm.


First, the Easter Egg Hunt went off without a hitch. Ted, Emma, and one of her friends hid eggs all over the place, finding really silly and creative hidey-holes. On cue, a gaggle and half of kids, with their families, assembled in an orderly fashion to learn all the farm rules and the egg hunt rules. Then, at the signal, all scattered to retrieve the candy-filled eggs. I put business cards in three of the eggs, which were worth one free dozen REAL eggs at the end of the hunt. Big kids helped little kids, everyone showed grace and charity - I was very proud of all the egg hunters. We also enjoyed cookies and juice, and bubbles! Emma and Ted gave informal tours of all the different animal areas, and Emma held a chicken for the kids to see up close. Ted was our official photographer. And the weather was spectacular.

Once everyone had gone home (to slip into sugar stupors, no doubt) a young couple stopped by for a visit, interested in learning about homesteading, raising livestock, and basically living green and sustainably. Wallace and Annette had been cycling across Europe recently, living in tents, working on organic farms, and building their dream of bringing the knowledge and experience back to the states. They really enjoyed the alpacas, though they were complimentary of all the critters. I hope they will come back and work with us on the garden or other projects.

Then, Shareholder Brenda arrived with her dad, Bill, on her arm. Bill was interested in seeing the farm and getting a nice dose of fresh air. He had wonderful stories to tell about farming as a kid - raising cotton, maize, corn and hay - with mules providing the main power. By those standards, Bill didn't think I had a real farm. No tractor! I do have a couple of donkeys, but so far, they don't know much about hard work.

Finally, we had a visit from Dawn (of the KnitNaturally Podcast) and three of her knitting buddies ("Rockstars" Amy, Liz, and Tasha), who were interested in seeing the baby sheep and getting a tour. Friend Amy had already been out once today with her daughter for the Easter Egg Hunt, and was back with her knitsibs in a different capacity. The ladies were so helpful in getting the lambs fed and exercised, and they took lots of great pictures of all the critters. My thanks to Liz for letting me use some of her photos from the visit! I'm happy to welcome Amy as our Newest Shareholder! (Trumpet fanfare here.)

The rain is finally moving into the area now, as I write, to give us some blessed, if overdue moisture, capping off a gorgeous, happy, abundant, joyful day. An embarassment of riches.
And tomorrow is Easter... How can we hold it all?

The Easter Egg Hunt is a Go

There had been some question about whether the weather would cooperate for us this morning, but to set everyone's mind to rest, we are a definite GO for 10 AM. It's a little brisk right now, but the day promises to warm up to a seasonable 68 degrees by afternoon. In my book: perfect.

All the animals have been coached and are on their best behavior. Please park on the road and walk down to the yard. We are looking forward to seeing you!

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Very Good Friday

Good Friday can be kind of a tough day for us Christians. We have the opportunity to take an unveiled look at the grisly reality of crucifixion. The couragous among us dare to own up to our part in that horrendous act. Every one of our sins nailed Jesus to the cross. It's human nature to want to skip this painful part and move right into the staggering delight of the resurrection. But, ask any woman who has had a baby - there is labor before birth. The valley of the shadow of death. Into the glorious brightness of dawn.

Tomorrow morning, Jacob's Reward Farm begins to celebrate that resurrection. I'm delighted to report that we are expecting more than 20 kids, both from our church family and also folks who saw our listing on Local Harvest, and RSVP'd. The weather is supposed to cooperate and smile on us as we hunt eggs, eat candy and cookies, and sip juice in the dappled shade. I'm making little coloring booklets for the kids, and I bought bubbles for everyone. Big fun. I'll share pictures in tomorrow's post.
Because of all the hoopla over our Easter Egg Hunt, I've not even given a thought to our family's Easter lunch. (Try not to be shocked.) Not sure if there's time to thaw some of the lamb we put in the freezer last fall... it's worth a try. So far I've not messed up a lamb roast.
In other farm news, the bottle-babies are growing by leaps and bounds. We've got our feeding routine down now, and it doesn't take much time for them to gulp down 16 oz. of lamb milk replacer. They've gone through the better part of a 50 lb bag of alfalfa pellets in the month they've been here. Itzhak's ear tag piercing wasn't healing well at all, and I wasn't having much luck trying to treat it, so Ted cut the tag off for me. In just a few days, it has begun to heal beautifully. He may spend his days untagged. If he's the only one without a tag, that's as good as BEING tagged, right?
We're inching toward getting fleece ready for the processor. Several more alpaca fleeces to skirt, and the sheep wool to shear yet. Next week I'll be working at a friend's house to make Jacob/alpaca batts to take to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in 3 weeks. Wow, that's coming up fast!
Lastly, the farm got a quick mention in a good article on local farmers in the Dallas Morning News. We're in the 8th paragraph from the end, but do read it all here. Thanks to DMN writer, Roy Appleton, for the nod.

And thanks for reading - this is my 100th post to this blog. Toot!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Animals are Organizing

Let me just say that you are going to want to tune in here to the blog over the next week or two as we unveil a seriously amazing advance in Agricultural Science. I have this friend who is a professional speaker/comedian by day, and an animal, um, trainer? whisperer? interpreter? union boss? by night. He has used his wiles and ancient arts to listen in on the thoughts and inner secrets of the animals here at Jacob's Reward. And what they have to say will shock and amaze you. Just so you know I'm not joshing you, here are the donkeys, whose favorite movie, I've learned is Shrek (go figure).

Now, who knows what deep secrets of the farm animal world we'll learn as we chase our critters with a camera, a boom mic, yards of extension cord, and a carrot or two. (They really perform better with bribes.) As I say, stay tuned for future interviews.

Let's not hit them all up with offers of representation or for personal appearances. If you want to speak to any of the animals in particular, let me know and I'll hook you up with the appropriate agent. That would be me.

In other farm news, Emma and I went to Green Elementary in Allen this afternoon to speak to about 100 kindergarteners about animals on the farm and how wool becomes sweaters. Talk about technology... I had a powerpoint presentation and a clip-on mic. For kindergarteners. Emma was my trusty techie and operated the teacher's wireless keyboard to run the slides. Next time I'll just video-conference the thing from home. Schools have come a long way since I was in kindergarten. Am I showing my age when I say I had a "Jetson" moment in that classroom?

Easter Egg Hunt here at the farm on Saturday. So far I'm expecting about 20+ little kids. It will be a chocopalooza!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Incentives and Rewards

A Ravelry group inspired me to create a coupon today. The Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival group today raised the question of which vendors were offering coupons for their products at the festival. Seems these folks wisely pre-plan what events and vendors they will hit during whatever time they intend to stay at the festival, otherwise, it can be completely overwhelming. Of course, I want lots of folks to come by the Jacob Sheep Conservancy booth, so with my friend Liz's help, I got a coupon up on the website for folks to print out and use for stuff I'm selling there. You can find it here.

But not everyone who loves the farm will be going to Maryland during the first weekend in May. Not everyone who loves the farm is even on Ravelry. So I had a second idea: if you print off the coupon, just scratch out "ravelry" and "Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival" and present it to me in person. There ya go, 20% just like that.

OK, on what? Well, I'll be making lots of beautiful batts to take to Maryland, and I have knitting sheep magnets, shawl pins, and some miscellaneous other things. Come by when I return from Maryland and ask to see the inventory.

Because you make the farm what it is, it's my way of saying, "thanks for loving the farm; you deserve a Reward." And I'll throw in a hug for free.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Lambs on the Run

Just a quick post tonight. I've tucked the babies in with their bottles and hopefully, a cozy nest to keep them warm on this very cold night. But today, they got to stretch their legs and get a little sun in the Big Sheep Pen. I decided that sooner or later they'd need to get acquainted with the Three Amigos: Shadrach, Zacchaeus, and Lucy, so that they could eventually wean off the bottle and move to a pasture-based diet.

So today, Emma and I put them in their harnesses and let them sniff noses with the big sheep in the big pen. When that seemed to go alright, we let them off the leads and let them run. There was a good bit of tentative head butting as they said hello to their elders, and then the chase began. Those five sheep went round and round like an ovine blender. Emma ran and got the camera and I started shooting video as fast as I could. Unfortunately, I was in such a hurry that the camera never did get a good lock on the subjects, so the focus is all wonky. So sorry. But I hope you can get a feel for the fun that was going on.

After the running, jumping, butting and playing, I got the lambs back by waving their afternoon bottles at them. They were ready for lunch, so it was a simple task to snap the leads back on the harnesses as they gulped their milk. They're not ready for full time living in the big pen - I discovered several places where the fencing is not baby-proof. So back into their little pen they went, for the time being.

At the end of the video is an interesting exchange: Shadrach bumps one of the lambs, but then Zacchaeus really bashes the lamb. Shadrach goes over to Zach and I swear says, "Hey, cut that out - you're being too rough!" But that's just me. Here's the video... you make the call:


Saturday, April 04, 2009

This Just in: Hard Work Can be Fun!

Oh. My. Gracious. Today several of our shareholders and their friends came to the farm to WORK. The plan was mainly to skirt some alpaca fleeces and vaccinate the alpacas, but we accomplished so much more! New shareholder, Brenda brought her friend, Pina, who happens to be a carpenter. Ted and Pina went straight to work adding a door to the second chicken tractor in the pasture, and before we knew it, the Buff Orpingtons got their first taste of free-ranging. Very cool.

Then Mary and her teenage friends G'emar and Jenny worked on cleaning the chicken tractor nest boxes, waterers and feeders so that the chooks would have an awesome place to call home after a hard day's ranging and egg-laying. They look fantastic, and the chickens will really appreciate it.

Meanwhile, Laurie, Brenda and Chris were skirting alpaca fleeces and preparing them for the processor. I should have reminded them that wallowing in all that fiber will give you the itch to spin something fabulous. Right now. Laurie is quite gifted in fiber prep, and taught the newer skirters some valuable lessons, in the art, science and intuition of skirting.

We broke for lunch and enjoyed Laurie's prize-winning smoked turkey and spinach quiche, made with Jacob's Reward eggs, of course. Out of this world yummy.
Then it was back to work, as we haltered the lamby babies and cleaned out their pen and crate. Ah, fresh bedding and chow. They really needed to stretch their legs! We had to let out their harnesses because they've grown so much since Emma and I took them on walks a week ago or so. Before very long they will be too big for that pen and will have to be moved in with the Big Sheep. That will be an interesting experiment...
Finally to round out our day, Tim Daugherty from Paca D'Lites Alpaca Ranch down the street came and helped us vaccinate the alpacas. Everybody held a haltered alpaca and steadied him while Tim did the poking. We are very blessed that Chris, who works in a research lab, is going to use her influence to help us get the supplies we need to doctor the boys. Thanks, Chris!!
By the end of the day, everyone was completely bushed, but happy, and I'd definitely say this was our most productive work day on the farm in a long time. You know that feeling that you can't move your legs or arms very well, but you have a mysterious sense of calm and well-being? And exhaustion. Yeah, we have that.
I cannot thank my friends and shareholders (for they are the same people) enough for all the help today. As I said to them over coffee, this farm is going to prosper to the extent that I allow others to help me grow and flesh out the long-term vision. It's clear I can't do it alone - and I wouldn't want to. I am blessed beyond words by the energy, compassion, commitment and creativity of the people who have focused it on Jacob's Reward Farm. God bless you all.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Happy Birthday, Shadrach!

This little stinker is one year old today. So, let's do a quick retrospective on his young and silly life so far... Last year on this date I went out about 8 AM to feed the sheep, and it was clear that Number Two (the ewe) was in labor. I shooed the other two ewes out of the hut to give her some space to labor in peace and sat down on a stool to watch. It didn't take long. Before I knew it, out came this skinny, wet, shapeless blob, which, when towelled off, sort of resembled a lamb. Number Two got right to cleaning him up, and I couldn't keep myself from helping. As a ram lamb, his destiny seemed locked as a freezer filler, so I worked very hard not to get attached, and he got the un-touchy-feely name of Two Point One.

But a few days later, a big storm came up and his mom did not do a great job of keeping him back from the entrance of the hut, exposing him to the freezing cold, wind and rain. I dried him off, and sat in the hut on a stool with him in my lap wrapped in a towel most of the night. (My name is Cindy and I'm an overprotective ninny, sometimes.)

Somehow, despite my herculean efforts, he survived and thrived, gaining weight faster than a show pig on steriods. He earned the nickname, "Tank." As the only youngster in the sheep pen, he really enjoyed running around, getting all the ewes to either chase him, or run away from him. He learned to climb up to the top of the sheep hut, and started getting the adult ewes to do it, too! They tore holes in my tarps with their pointy hooves. (And now that he shares the pen with Lucy and Zacchaeus, he's taught both of them that terrible game.)
As he grew, his fleece got longer and longer, with lots of crimp and a surprising degree of softness. That, plus the fact that he was bulldozing his way into my heart, saved him from becoming Easter dinner. His new name, Shadrach, tells the tale of a young man who has been saved from the firey furnace. I'm really anxious to shear him and get a good look at that fiber. It may surprise us all!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

What Will They Think of Next?

Every week I get Clara Parkes' Knitter's Review, where she thoroughly checks out new yarns and the hottest new thangs in knitting. This week, she really hit the jackpot... er, litter box. Click here to see for yourself. Hint: Smokey may have a new job description here at the farm...

Also new: my glasses. I haven't had a new prescription in five years. Goodness - the adjustment may take a while. I'm tripping over my feet and nodding my head up and down looking for the right spot to see far away. These progressive lenses keep you guessing a bit. I'm sure I'll be fine in a couple of days. And hopefully, these frames look a tiny bit hipper than my old ones. Without drawing undue attention to themselves. I've had them on since 2 PM and no one seems to have noticed. Maybe that's a good thing.
In farm news, I've moved the twins' feedings to three times a day, two bottles each. Amazing - I don't know where they put it! They down those bottles like frat boys on Spring Break. Their little tummies do bulge out when they're finished, and I'm happy that they have lots of calories to get them to the next feeding. The weather has cooperated so far since the cold snap, and they seem quite content in their little pen. Their little wooly coats are actually growing! What are the chances that their adult fleeces will stay this baby-butt soft? We can only hope...

Did you figure out that the article I linked to above was my one stab at an April Fool's joke? Clara really had me going when I read it the first time, so I thought I should just pass the joy along! In other April Fool's news: my sister turned 50 today. Neener, neener, neener. If I had to do it, Lisa, so do you!