Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Snow Day, and a Happy Peek at Spring

Who would believe we'd see two snow days before January? The clouds moved in this afternoon and dropped a gentle sifting of light rain that turned to big sloppy snowflakes before it was all over. Don't you love how snow softens and silences the world?

The little spinach plants do fine under their snow coats, and I hope to have another batch for salad tomorrow. Must take advantage of Elizabeth's love of leaf cleaning before she heads home.


DD spent a couple of chilly minutes out in the snow, and when I walked by the truck on my way to the barn, I spied her creation on the tailgate: a snow shepherd with happy snow sheep. My kid is a keeper.


We spent a nice quiet day today; with the weather coming in there was no urge or need to get out. Barn chores went on as usual, though I'm giving Mordecai a penicillin shot for the next several days to make sure his injury doesn't get infected. Without anthropomorphizing, I think I can say that the sheep have been very affectionate and interested in being close to me the past couple of days. We're all coping and getting better.

The best medicine so far came in an e-mail from my Gulf Coast Native sheep breeder friend, Kim. She sent a photo of her first lamb of the season: a rare blue ram lamb. He is Eli's half brother, as Belle was the mother of both sheep.

I wrote Kim right back, congratulated her, and asked her to reserve us two little boy lambs, and to let me know the minute they are born.

Yay Spring.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Time to Grow Again

Trying to pull out of the weariness of grief, I wandered to the garden this afternoon. I was wondering how our little spinach rows were doing since temperatures had gone below freezing many mornings in a row lately. Turns out, they're doing just fine.

They were sown pretty thickly, so I decided it was time to thin the plants and take the thinnings in for our first mini-harvest. Fortunately for me, my friend Elizabeth is visiting. Elizabeth loves nothing more than those little fussy, tedious jobs the rest of us hate. She sat down with my bowl of fresh spinach babies and nipped off the stringy roots. Then she carefully washed the sweet little leaves.

And we had one of the tastiest tiny spinach salads I've ever eaten. Out of my garden. I was so happy! The garden had been grossly neglected this year, save for DH's lonely tomatoes. How redeeming to produce this last-minute harvest at the tail end of the year. My heart was lifted.


As I get over our loss a little more, I hope to work on this project:


It's the little bit of fleece I was able to take from Esther. It is absolutely gorgeous. It's short, and there isn't much of it, but I hope to clean and card it and spin it into a little yarn. Then I'll find a little bookmark pattern or something like that, to make a memento of our beautiful Queen.

Looking ahead, I am planning a work day this coming Saturday, January 2, to get some of the fence fixed up and suitable for a potential livestock guardian dog. The alpaca pasture is closer to being ready for a dog, so we'll focus there first. I'm locking the sheep up at night now to keep them safer for the time being. Soon, we'll work on their pasture perimeter fence.

One step at a time.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Very Sad Day

I'll start by thanking everyone for their prayers, thoughts, and notes of encouragement on this very sad day. I cannot express how much they all mean to me. And now, for those who don't already know, I have to tell you that two of our beautiful sheep were killed this morning by what we believe was a loose dog. Could have been a coyote. Could have been more than one. It was hard to tell.

__________________________

When I was a young girl, I rode horses every chance I could get. I rode at camp. I rode at friends' houses. I took a few lessons. I rode every horse I got close to. And I never fell off. I thought I was quite a rider to be able to boast that no horse had ever "thowed" me. But then someone I respected said to me, "Well, you can't be much of a rider if you've never fallen off." HUH? Truth is, if you ride enough, and challenge yourself enough to grow, you will eventually fall off. Probably numerous times.

Guess I felt the same way about shepherding: I'd never lost a sheep. I must be doing everything right. But the reality is, if you have sheep long enough, you will eventually lose one or two or three or more. I stubbornly refused to believe that this truism applied to me, until today.

Sheep fall prey to so many dangers: old age, injury, worms, dogs, each other, themselves for pete's sake. (I have often saved Shadrach from killing himself.) Sheep are not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Sheep are vulnerable. They have only one defense: speed. And their speed is often matched by the critters who want to eat them. They need protection. Their need for protection has to be balanced with their need for the freedom to graze in the open. Freedom and constraint battle constantly in our husbandry decisions. We do our best. I know I'm not perfect and that the world is an unpredictable, dangerous place sometimes.

But nothing prepared me for the sight that greeted me in the pasture this morning. Our beautiful Esther down. On the other side of the paddock, little Eli down as well. And the remaining five huddled against the shed. (Mordecai sustained a small wound on his throat that I don't believe is serious, thank God.) I thought of all the plans I had for Esther's exceptional fleece, about her incredible journey to come to the farm, and all the progress I'd made in making her less afraid of me. And little Eli - the only non-bottle-fed Gulf Coast sheep who enjoyed a good long face scritch, and the one who insisted on eating his hay standing in the middle of the trough while all the other sheep ate around him. My heart broke into a hundred little pieces. Then I got hopping mad. So mad. I vowed right then that this week, I will learn to responsibly use the 16 gauge shot gun we own. Nobody takes my sheep from me.

I've been through the grief spectrum several times: sad, mad, disbelieving, fearful, accepting, blaming, flippant. Right now, I'm feeling very vulnerable about the critters, both sheep and alpacas, left in the pastures. How can I protect them better?

Well, I'm a pragmatist. And an optimist. God brings good out of every evil - sometimes we get to see it and sometimes we don't, but I believe He does. So what good will come out of this tragedy? One thing I can do is to make a list of the most reasonable improvements we can make in the field, and get a plan in place to implement them. Next on the calendar: tighten the existing fences, and put up real fences in the day pasture where only electric netting sits now. And while that's going on: start the search for a good guard dog. Or two.

And lastly, make myself believe that "the best I can do" is really the best. I. can. do.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas From the Farm!


All of us at Jacob's Reward Farm wish you and your loved ones the Merriest of Christmases, and a blessed 2010 to come!
~Cindy

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chicken Run - Alvarado, Texas

Mary Berry and I took a quick road trip yesterday to each pick up a new batch of laying hens. (As you know, our new Chicken Sponsor program is helping our farm increase egg production this coming spring.)

We found young Daniel on Craig's List with lots of chickens for sale in Alvarado, and we headed out to see which of his little pullets would meet our needs. Daniel is a budding entrepreneur, and we wanted to support his business.



I chose ten Rhode Island Reds as good all around laying hens. Mary likes variety, and chose a few RIRs, some Americaunas, and some Barred Rocks. I loaded mine in a spare dog crate, Mary loaded hers in a spare bunny cage, and we were set.



Some of Daniel's personal chickens came to bid farewell to the little girls.


After a short, uneventful drive home, I installed the new layers into the "Coop de Ville," which graces the south pasture. My plan is to let them settle in and get a little bigger, and then teach them how to free range during the day and come home at night. This spring, we should have a good supply of farm fresh eggs for sale.



You can sponsor one of these sweet chicks through our Chicken Sponsorship program, available for $50 (certificate and card for 10 dozen eggs), or, Egg Lover's Cards are available for $35 (card for 10 dozen eggs). See this past post for full details.

Ah, a new Christmas tradition is born... the Christmas Chickens... Maybe they need little red hats?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

When cool weather hits, sheep get frisky. Some sheep have a deep need to show everyone else who is top dog.. er, sheep. Here we see Jethro letting Samson have it. Fortunately, he didn't turn his wrath on Israel or Tommy, because they would not have fared well. Four-horned sheep are not nearly as successful in a tussle as two-horned ones. You can easily see why. However, just because they aren't contenders, doesn't mean they can't stand around with mob mentality and watch the show. Silly sheep.


I also need to mention that no sheep were harmed during this short altercation. All four sheep are back to being quiet pasture mates. I'm so glad they can eventually work out their differences without any bloodshed. So far.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Exotic Goodies from Faraway Lands

Today the mailman brought Christmas boxes from Hawaii and Idaho - from my sister and from my mother-in-law. Both sent the usual treasured treats from their own particular areas. My sister loads us up every year with chocolate covered macadamia nuts, Hawaiian coffee and other funky local treats, and my mother-in-law sends along some of her homemade raisins, fruit leather and raspberry jam. This year she also sent some hand-hulled walnuts, and what looks to be a huge box of chocolates. Oh, my.





Let the feasting begin.

I think I'm going to need to put this stuff in a vault or safety deposit box, and dole it out very sparingly - especially to myself. I'm hearing a very dim voice telling me something... something about exercise and moderation.... very dim....

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rime

While the east coast settles under a thick blanket of snow, here in north Texas we got a little coat of frost last night. I really enjoyed my chores this morning in the still winter air. Everything was flocked like an artificial tree - the grass, the fencing, the car windows:


The wreath on the gate:


The alpacas:


And the sheep:

Even though they have shelter to sleep under, it seems they prefer the open air on these brisk nights. If you have a gorgeous woolly coat, I guess it makes sense to get some good use out of it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly!

Fa la la la la, la la la la! So festive and jolly, and so many tasty treats today in the Red Barn! Beautiful fiber, yarns, knitting projects... I am so blessed to be able to sit in a circle with all these wonderful ladies and share the joys of the Christmas season!

The Spinderellas joined us from Utah in a 2-dimensional kind of way (and provided luscious presents!),

Rita worked away on some kick-butt socks,

Liz mastered spinning with a cat in her lap,

Linda joined us for the first time,

Mary brought her lovely daughter, Erin,
and an incredible coffee machine,

(Mary's foot in this shot is the only photo evidence
of her presence with us. Huh?)


New shareholder and celeb podcaster, Dawn, worked on her lovely "Gretel" hat,

Peggy plied some gorgeous wool, also with feline assistance,

Chris fired up my hand loom for its maiden warp,

and Brenda spun and plied yarn on a wheel for the first time!

I had to wrap up this post with Brenda's victorious, shining face because I just realized how serious everyone else looks, engrossed in their projects. Do not be mislead! We laughed a LOT today! We always laugh when we're together! Please consider joining us next month, on January 16th! We're cozy in here, but there's always room for you!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Peace, Be Still

Busy day today: more last-minute shopping and doings for Christmas, a good workout at the gym, regular house and animal chores, and several hours of cleaning the studio for tomorrow's Spin-In and for a visit this evening from friends I hadn't seen in ages.

I think I'm already benefiting from my morning workouts. Today was fairly productive, though there were several moments in the studio cleaning part of the day where I almost sent up the white flag and quit. I had let that little job grow to behemoth proportions. But perseverence paid off, and the place is fairly presentable.

Several times today, in between strong attacks on the To Do List, I took short breaks and gave myself a breather. What a difference that makes. I enjoyed my coffee more than most days. And then when my friends came over for a cuppa in the Red Barn this evening, Smokey Cat went from lap to lap, spreading her feline peace and relaxation. Even my friend Carol, who is decidedly NOT a cat person, fell under Smokey's spell.

Today's lesson: take time to breathe and relax several times a day in the midst of this Christmas Crunch. You'll be glad you did.


Quick reminder: Tomorrow at 10 AM is our monthly spin-in (and Christmas "do"). I'll have Chicken Sponsor cards and Egg Lover cards if anyone is interested. I'll also have 'Paca Gold ready to load up if that is your need. And there'll be treats.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Let the Resolutions Begin

Why wait till January 1? I've made several resolutions already, and New Years is still two weeks away. But sometimes, a girl has to do what a girl has to do. And I need to get back in shape.

I've been wanting to make some lifestyle improvements, and this seemed like the best way to start. I'm going to start working out (had my first appointment with a trainer today) and logging my food. Not my favorite things to do, but I think it will help me turn around several areas of my life that need adjusting: going to bed earlier, having more energy during the day, drinking more water, and fitting into those clothes that have gotten shoved to the back of the closet because they "shrunk."

I'm kind of excited about it, actually. I've been on this road before, but instead of getting depressed about that, I'm using it as encouragement - I have been here before and I have had pretty good success, for short stretches. I'm praying that this stretch is much longer than the ones that came before. I know I'm going to feel better. And what better way to go into the holidays than by bringing large portions of my life back into good order?

I'll be checking in with you from time to time on this journey, because I need a little accountability and cheering on. Deal?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Celebrations

A small part of the circle of seventeen spinners who came to the party,
and the pile of unopened gifts.

'Tis the season - to party! Our spinning group celebrated Christmas yesterday with our annual potluck and gift exchange. As usual, we brought too much great food and some awesome fiber gifts to open and swap - usually lovely stuff out of each other's stashes. Because, we all really have plenty of fiber. But new-to-us stuff is wonderfully refreshing. We love the Christmas party because we are joined by some of our friends who work and who take time off to be with us on this very special day.

Joanne made awesome yarn ball magnets for everyone.

We'll celebrate again this Saturday in the Red Barn beginning around 10 AM. Bring snacks to share if you like, and I'll have coffee, water, and a tidy space to hang out together... that's the plan anyway - to clean up the Barn for company. I'll also have some special surprises. Make that "surPriZes."

If you're interested in some Paca Gold fertilizer, bring a bag, or use one of mine, and after the party, we'll load up a bag of Gold for your garden!

Chicken Sponsorships and Egg Lovers cards will also be available on Saturday.

Wow, it's starting to feel like Christmas! See you Saturday!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

'Paca Gold - Available Now

Here's yet another way to share the magic of the farm - Naturally aged alpaca manure, ready to bag up and put in your garden! Bring your own bag, or use one of my recycled feed sacks. All you can get in a bag for $5. This is a steal. I'll even help you bag it!

Alpaca poo has a low, balanced NPK value, and so is safe to put straight on your beds. Over the winter it will begin to break down, and in the spring you'll be good to go. By then, even vegetables can be planted in it. This is the perfect fertilizer and conditioner for our heavy clay soil. Turn your hard packed beds into loamy joy!

This nutrition-packed, renewable resource needs to be covering the gardens of the metroplex. Make an appointment and I'll be here to help you with as many bags as you need. The weather is perfect, and will be for the next week or two, so the material will be dry and easy to bag. (Tell your friends!)

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's Here: The "Chicken Sponsorship" Program

This brilliant idea actually came from a beloved shareholder. And for her and other egg lovers, we are proud to unveil a new and wonderful program here at Jacob's Reward: Chicken Sponsorship.

Here's how it works:
We buy a ready-to-lay pullet and feed her for a year. You get a Sponsor Certificate (suitable for framing!) and a card with ten punch spaces on it. I'll punch your card once for every dozen eggs you get this next laying season. You get first priority when the eggs start coming and the demand rises. You can name your chicken if you like, but I plan for them all to look pretty much the same, for reasons I'll be happy to explain to you, away from the children or the tender-hearted.
Cost: $50 the first year. If you sponsor a chicken again in subsequent years, the cost will be $30.

Egg lovers who don't necessarily want to sponsor a chicken can also buy an "Egg Lovers" card and get ten dozen eggs for $35. Present your card for a punch and get a dozen eggs.

Folks who purchase their eggs a dozen at a time will pay the usual $4/dozen.

I'll actually be buying a flock of about ten pullets, so the sponsorships are limited. I will update the website soon with the information and a PayPal button. When it's ready, it will be here: Jacob's Reward Farm Pasture Fresh Egg Page. You can e-mail me with your interest in the meantime, and I'll have your card ready.

Good news in the interim: our Wyandottes are back to laying fairly well. I'm getting 4-6 eggs a day again. If any 2009 shareholders still need to pick up their free dozen, please see me soon. My goal is to get up to a couple dozen a day at the peak of the season.

I think the chickens will be happy to know how much you love them. It's easy for them to feel upstaged by the fiber bearers with the soft, fuzzy faces.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas Comfort

This was the weekend for Christmas parties. It's kind of nice that they were all bunched up together, but I'm exhausted! DH and I did have some serious fun. Last night was his office party, and I scored a nice prize - a gold coin for shopping at Northpark Mall. Now, I don't really like malls, especially around Christmas, but I may have to go apply this windfall to the purchase of an iTouch, which was on my wish list. I'm a techno-junky, don't ya know?

Then tonight, we attended the church vestry (board) party at our priest's house and had the usual glorious time. We can always count on excellent food, good company and a really fun gift exchange.



I sink into the warm comfort of spending holiday time with people I've known for years, and with whom I share a foundational understanding of the world. We've been through thick and thin together, and a party like this is occasion for some precious closeness. And silliness. Tons of silliness.

I pray that you enjoy some time of nearness and comfort with your own special community during this holiday time. I'm so thankful that our group of farm friends is developing that kind of tight-knit friendship, if you'll pardon the pun. You are part of God's gift to me, and I hope you receive from me and the farm when you visit.

Shalom! Peace!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Chicken Follow Up

Yesterday I promised you pictures of the chicks, and I'm making' good. Here are a few of the chicks in their barn home at Cyndi's, and a picture with me to show you how big they've actually gotten. They sure look happy!


Cyndi has quite a diverse and beautiful flock on her place, protected by a gorgeous young rooster. This rooster has a very gentlemanly attitude so far, lucky for him.


While I was visiting Paca D'Lites Alpaca Ranch, I had to stop by the alpaca pen and check out the new babies. I am including a bunch of gratuitous cria cuteness.