Monday, January 31, 2011

New Shed Shelters Sheep from Sleet

It's here at last--the day of final conversion.  The structure we've always called the "Cadillac Shed" is now finally a sheep shelter - just in time for a big winter storm.  I am so thrilled.  Gail and I put the finishing touches on the cleaning up, and then cut a hole in the south wall so that the sheep can get in and out.

They were a little tentative at first, but then they caught a whiff of the fresh hay and grain we had laid out for them, and they were drawn irresistibly.  First one sheep, then two, then the flock flew in.

The dogs haven't discovered it yet, but they have the hoop shelter all to themselves now, so they may not even care.

Then we combed the farm putting all the other cold weather preparations in place.  Gail helped me move the Jacobs down to the "pocket" because it has its own little shed that just fits them.

This way the alpacas will have the whole barn to themselves--surely everyone can find a stall out of the weather.  All the hay feeders are full and the hatches battened.

I'm so grateful for modern technology that allows us to get advance warning of these cold blasts and prepare.  I'll really sleep better tonight.

DD is praying for enough weather to stay home from school.  That would be fine with me.  I'm stocked up with lots of paperwork, housework, and art yarn spinning to keep me busy.  Hope there's enough hot chocolate in the pantry.  Tomorrow's going to be a hunker down kind of day.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Scientists Dishin' the Dirt

 I hope it was as beautiful today where you are as it was here in north central Texas.  My, oh, my.  The cold will be back in a couple of days, but today it was the best of springtime dropped into winter as a special treat.  

So what better way to spend this glorious day than putting our scientist friends to work taking soil samples in the pastures?  This job has been on my list for years, just because I'm curious about the soil chemistry and condition.  We want to grow the most nutritious forage possible for our sheep and alpacas.

I'll mail these samples off to Texas A & M University to their lab, and they'll send us back a report telling us all about the micronutrients available in our soil.  Sometimes this testing can point out deficiencies in the soil that might pose a problem for the critters, or show us where we need to amend the soil.  I really think we're ok, but it's always good to check.

And who better to help with this job than Science Officer Chris, and scientist friend Angela?  This kind of job is just up their alley, and they were wonderful samplers. 

We did not get to do any halter training with the alpacas after all today, but the next session is on the calendar for February 12, weather pending.  We'll also be doing fecal checks, and you sure don't want to miss that... ahem...

And speaking of vet issues... I finally have evidence that Jethro is officially a wether (neutered boy sheep).  I found it in the pasture.  And that's all I'm going to say on that topic.

Cut From the Same Cloth

There are more of us than I thought.  Tucked away in woody, large-lot, semi-rural neighborhoods, you'll find them.  Women who just have to farm.  Even in the teeniest of ways.  The longer I live this life, the more of them I meet - and we connect like sisters.

Last Saturday I met a neighbor, from no more than 2-3 miles away, who has chickens, goats, a donkey, a lovely dog, and a nice big garden where she grows colored cotton.  Ilene also has a good IT job that's flexible enough to allow her some time at home, telecommuting.

She invited me to come visit her, so this morning I met her at her place up the road.   When I arrived we started the tour.  She simultaneously began her feeding rounds and finished up a conference call.  Major multi-tasking.  But that's a prerequisite to suburban homesteading, isn't it?

Our first stop was her beautiful solar-powered chicken coop and storage shed.  Very cool, and neighbor-approved.  Very respectable structure.

The coop and nest boxes get lots of light from the greenhouse-panel roof.  It lets in great sunshine.

The chicken yard was full of every description of chickens.  (Chicken people love variety, don't we?)  We were greeted by her young spangled rooster, who was johnny-on-the-spot to remind me who's yard it is, in case I was wondering.

Polish chickens always crack me up, but they have a strong dignity that dares you to laugh out loud at them.

We strolled by her nice large garden, asleep now, but soon to be wide awake and full of young cotton plants.  Colored cotton.  Of the soft and lovely variety.  Very yum.

We met her old donkey, large and grave, and very shy of strangers.  He's much bigger than our Moses was, and has shaggy ears like the French Poitou donkeys.  I never get tired of donkey faces.

Ilene's two pet Nubian goats were less concerned about a stranger watching them eat, and more concerned about checking "Breakfast" off the day's to do list.  Very sweet ladies.

Very soon, it was time for Ilene to get back to work and for me to start on my own chores.  Leaving her place was as pretty as arriving!

What a joy to meet another woman who shares our values and passions - using the land for it's God-given purpose, producing something valuable and sustainable, taming a bit of land for use without stripping it of it's natural glory. 

Ilene will keep us informed as her garden begins to grow this spring.  I am really interested in seeing the cotton come up and develop.  We'll be visiting again before too long, I'm sure.  Maybe we can even interest her in trying knitting or spinning sometime.  Heh heh.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Spring Garden Cleaning, and a Winner

Taking advantage of our temporary spring-like weather, Farmhand Gail started digging in the garden yesterday.  "Dirt Fever" she calls it, and is suffering from a pretty bad case.  Well, I don't want anyone suffering needlessly, so I turned her loose on our ragamuffin vegetable beds.

First she pulled up some feral scallion-like-things in the yard and turned up some lovely earthworms in the process.

Then she planted a bunch of white onion sets, and rows and rows of spinach.  There is still cold weather to come, so she chose winter veggies, and installed some cozy row covers to help them through the rough times ahead.  We should be covered up with spinach in a couple of weeks.  Nice.

Then she came in, having worked up quite an appetite, and whipped together a lovely pasta dish with the front yard scallions, and stuff we found in the fridge.  Yowza - someday I'll learn how to do that.  I so envy people who can pull random stuff out of the cabinet and throw together a gourmet meal.

On top of that, we took a third load of stuff to the dump from the soon-to-be sheep shed, and now I'm really beginning to see victory on the horizon.

Just a gorgeous, gorgeous day.

As if all that wasn't satisfying and delightful enough, I got to read all the lovely comments you guys made on the blog the last couple of days.  You all are entirely too sweet!  I loved hearing from old timers, new timers, "virtual" friends from far away, visitors, and wish-we-could-visit-ors - all testifying to the joy the farm has brought.  I'm bursting with joy and gratitude.  Please know that all the sentiments you shared are mutual.  You each are vital to the life of the farm in your own way.

And I wish I had twenty or thirty batches of yarn to give away....  The Random Number Generator says that Jennifer will be receiving the Jacob yarn!  Congratulations and thank you so much for your comment!  I can't wait to see how this beautiful stuff works up for you.

Thank you all for your continued support of the farm through visits to the LRB or to the blog.  Either way, you're very special to me. 

More farmy goodness on its way, y'all...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dancing Jethro

I'd say he was feeling much better after his "procedure," wouldn't you?

Wanna see him in action?  Go here.   Once we confirm that his manly bits are actually gone, we'll truck Mr. Jethro over to Missy's house, and swap him for a Shetland ewe named Phoebe.

Now that he's all perky again, I'm really gonna miss him...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy "Eureka! Day" and Contest

Our sweet Esther.  Losing her was a tragedy that gave birth to a wonderful blessing.

Today's the day I stop and express my gratitude for a couple of the amazing blessings in the life of the farm, that just happened to have occurred on the same day of the year - January 26.

First, three years ago, Susie Gibbs sat down with me and explained all about the CSA model of her fiber farm, which continues to revolutionize the fiber world.  This model emphasizes community over commodity, and people over products.  To hard-line retailers, this stands everything on its ear.  Yes, spinners and knitters are looking for good yarns and rovings, but even more important to them is a sense of belonging.  And since that's important to me, too, I'm more than delighted to provide an environment where relationships grow and multiply, as we ply our fiber craft (no pun intended) together.

The door to the Little Red Barn is always open for old-comers and new-comers.

Inspired by Susie and her farm, Jacob's Reward Farm is developing and maturing into its own unique kind of place.  People instantly feel at home.  We become friends, we share our joys and sorrows, we network our businesses, and everything takes on a richness it lacked before. We keep our animals happy, healthy and accessible, and busy providing the quality fiber we love. 

There's still lots to learn - challenges to overcome, mistakes to make and correct, successes to celebrate, and joys to share.  Thank you, Susie, for getting us off on the right foot.  We can't wait to see what tomorrow holds.

Judah's first day on the job.  The sheep were terrified.

The second thing we celebrate on January 26 is the arrival of our first Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) Judah, adopted from Texas Great Pyrenees Rescue.  Not all the Great Pyrs that the rescue group takes in are suitable for guard work, so our friend Susie Shirley evaluates them on her property with her goats.  Judah did a wonderful job for her, so we had every confidence he would do well here.  I had no idea just how wonderful he would be.  He has a great disposition toward us and the sheep, and he has none of the bad habits Pyrs can display - digging, fence jumping, wandering, etc.  I just assume he really likes being here, because he could certainly leave if he wanted to.

 Slowly, the sheep begin to trust this big white bear.

Our sheep took a little while getting used to him, and now they are fairly at ease around him.  And they are definitely safer with him on guard in the pasture.  I never ever want a repeat of the coyote attack that pushed me to get Judah in the first place.  Now, with the addition of Ruthie in the field with him, we have quite a lovely set up.  The Maremma puppies, coming in late February (be still, my heart), will eventually allow us to provide protection for all our valuable fiber animals and chickens.

He's really just a big white love-bug once you get to know him.  
Strangers, not so much.

So, as you can see, it's a very special day.  Makes me want to give something away. 

Here's two skeins of beautiful hand spun Jacob yarn - 4 oz. and about 200 yards each of worsted weight smooshy, springy goodness in a rich natural brown.  If you've never knitted with Jacob wool before, you owe yourself this tactile treat.

 Comfort food for your fingers... hand spun Jacob.

Leave a comment here about anything you like, by midnight tomorrow night (Thursday), and we'll pick a winner at random.  You're already a winner in my book, but that's how these things work, ya see.

Have an extra special "Eureka! Day" today.  Watch for the special blessings that just might change your life.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Progress" Pounding at the Gates

At first there were just a couple of big trucks rumbling down our road.  Then the numbers picked up.  Today, there are a dozen pieces of construction equipment grinding up and down our little asphalt road, to the big pasture just north of us.  Or, what used to be a big pasture.

We always had big power lines going through there, but underneath them, horses grazed quietly and woodsy vegetation softened the fence lines.  So many trees and bushes obscured our view of that property that we just thought of it as "the woods to the north."

No more.

Tree trimmers started first, clearing not only limbs and branches, but whole trees.  Then came the graders, and the rock haulers.  Now there are cranes, front-end loaders, augers, concrete mixers, cherry pickers, flat bed trailers, and lots of guys in orange vests.

At first the dogs got lots of exercise running the fence line and barking at each invading mechanical menace.  But now there are too many.  The dogs have given up and retreated to the hut to sleep through the cacophony.

My hope is that once the improvements to the power lines have been made, all the construction staff and vehicles will clear out and we'll be able to go back to our peaceful life.  And when the spring vegetation returns to the trees left to wear it, the stark view will once again soften, and the highway noises will be buffered.  I'm thinking a row of cedar trees might be in order now.

In the meantime, I'm fitting all the sheep for hard hats.

Monday, January 24, 2011

New Alpacas Coming

 Our new white guy is far left, and our gray guy is dead center.  They're used to being part of a crowd.

I took a little trip over to Greenville today to have some fiber playtime with our friends Amy and Rena, and also to visit with the two alpacas we'll be receiving from Amy next week.

We're getting a lovely white guy and a cool gray guy with some white tuxedo markings.  Both boys are very soft, and will make a wonderful addition to our fiber harvest.  In fact, their fleeces from the last shearing were part of the 2010 CSA harvest.  Candy for your fingers; can't you just feel it?

They have registered names, but you know our convention - Biblical call names.  I'll be working on that and let you know what's decided before they arrive.  In the meantime, take a look - aren't they cute?

The white boy has some dental issues, but Amy says that once they're on pasture instead of dry lot, that his baby tooth hanger-on will probably fall out (yes, they're both almost two years old).  Here, he'll get more opportunity to pull up grass all day, and that should dislodge his snaggle tooth.  The gray boy has some pretty markings, and you know how I love the gray color...

Back inside, we worked on the other end of the fiber process.  I think I must be on a mission, because today we taught Rena how to knit continental.  She's already quite an accomplished knitter, but she's only ever knitted English.  Check out this incredible shawl she just finished:

Just needs blocking to spring into glorious life!

But we all love learning new things, so we sent her home with a homework assignment.  I'm practicing my art yarn spinning, and having a blast.  I'll let you know how that's going when I get some finished skeins.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Synergy and Serenity

Was it the gorgeous weather, or the promise of congenial company?  Eighteen lovely ladies and two gentlemen graced the Little Red Barn today.  We welcomed Catherine, Angela and Irene for the first time today, and they contributed so much to our party.  Catherine learned to spin on a drop spindle for the first time, Angela finished a past-due Christmas gift, and Irene brought us Local. Colored. Cotton.  Amazing.  (I'll be trotting over to her house here in Parker very soon to learn more about her special homestead operation.)

Some of our friends hadn't been over in a while and we had some catching up to do.  Jennifer has an exciting project in the works: a small yarn shop in an antique mall in Waxahachie.  She'll have more details up on her blog soon, and I'll pass on all the information here as well.

We assembled more Yarn Storm yarn and will be sorting it soon according to its future purposes.  The women's prison in Dallas needs plain worsted weight yarn the most, as the ladies knit blankets with the donations that come in. 

Ellie and her husband drove over from Arlington to get some consultation on a knitting project she is planning: duplicating a beloved cardigan.  The wealth of knowledge around the room got her off to a great start, and she even got an escort to the Woolie Ewe from Brenda, who was headed that way.

You'll be relieved to know that Tasha washed her hair especially for her day at the LRB, knowing that she might end up on the blog for everyone to see.  Thanks, Tash!  How pretty!

Angela finished one of Cat Bordhi's moebius baskets.  She has cranked out a dozen of these quick felting projects because they're just so cool.  Funny, the last time I sat down to knit with Angela, she was working on one of these baskets in the Cat Bordhi class we attended together!

Nice Noro vest, Dina...

Vickie's ready to weave with her alpaca yarn.

Pam began the adventure of converting to continental knitting.  You won't regret it, Pam.

Anna made great progress on her crocheted shawl.  Tiny, tiny, tiny crochet.  Wow.

At times exciting, in the exchange of ideas and knowledge, and at other times, peaceful, relaxing and refreshing.  One of our sweetest moments today was when Leslie played us the video she has made as an entry in Susie Gibb's Flock Giveaway Contest.  Such a wonderful job, girl - we're all pulling for you!  What a sumptuous afternoon... 

A lot of us are looking forward to the DFW Fiber Fest in April.  We'll have an information booth, and I'll be teaching a couple of spinning classes.  Anna says they're close to full!

Our LRB newbies needed a pasture tour, of course.  Catherine communed with Tommy the old-man Jacob sheep.

Next Saturday, Science Officer Chris will be here at the farm to take some soil samples for us.  We're finally getting around to having our pastures checked by the county extension service to see exactly what we have here.  We're also going to halter the alpacas and start giving them some practice on lead.  Let me know if you'd like to come by and help us out.