Thursday, March 31, 2011

Raining Diamonds

Ever have one of those days when you hoped things would go well, and then they just kept getting better and better?  So much better that you thought you just might burst any minute?  I had that today.

Shearing Day was phenomenal.  The weather was gorgeous, the sheep cooperated, our shearer Danny did a bang-up job, the fleeces were 100 times better than I expected, a bunch of my favorite people showed up to share the day together, we met new friends, added two new shareholders to the fold, and we have a pregnant ewe. A Very Pregnant Ewe. 

 South end of pregnant ewe.

Mary Elizabeth seems to have fallen into the amorous embrace of one of the so-called wethers in the pasture -- sheep who were supposed to be neutered, but weren't.  And by the looks of it, we could have a lamb or lambs pretty soon.  I'm rolling my eyes at the unexpected turn of events, but inside, I'm giddy with delight.  We've only had one lamb born here before, Shadrach, and he was a pip.  Love the lambs.  Please pray for a safe delivery for Mary Elizabeth.  We raised her from a bottle baby, and she is a sweetheart.

 North end of pregnant ewe.

 Titus, a natural colored Gulf Coast sheep, gives up his fleece to the admiring gasps from the crowd.  Yum.

 Nurse/farmhand Gail stands poised with the next CDT injection while Bag Lady Mary holds the next fleece bag ready.

 Future shepherd Leslie watches everything carefully - next year, this will be the sight at her Over the Moon Farm in Sachse, TX.

We met lots of new friends day - kids watched something they may not get to see everyday.  Pal Jennifer Jurek was on hand to take some incredible pictures.  Go here to see them.

 Laying the fleeces out on the skirting table, we discovered that this year our sheep produced a huge bumper crop of lovely wool, both in white and natural browns and blacks.  Oh.  my.

 New friend Kristen, Mary, and Gail carefully pick through Samson's black and white Jacob fleece.

Rockstar podcaster Dawn, tried her hand at skirting Titus' fine, crimpy black and charcoal fleece.

 Shadrach looks no worse for the wear, and in fact, looks a bit relieved to be out of the wool coat before hot temperatures descend.

 Our little goofball Shetland, Phoebe, looks more like her peers now that she's nekkid.
  She's still kind of crazy, however.

 More of the flock can fit around the hay trough when they've been stripped of all that wool.

Isaiah, one of our yearling boys, sheared the biggest sheep fleece we've ever produced here at JRF - six pounds of the softest, crimpiest rough-skirted fleece you can imagine.  It's not uniform - part of the fleece has tiny crimps, and the other part has large, beefy bundles of crimp.  Let me know if you need to run your fingers through it before we start washing and cleaning up.  You'll go weak in the knees.

I'm so grateful for everyone who was a part of this special day - not only is the sheep shearing an important landmark as we travel through the CSA year, but the glorious outcome is just more evidence that our vibrant, growing community makes this farm what it is.  You rock, little Flock.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Time to Peel the Sheep

We're prepping and tidying for our big Shearing Day tomorrow here at the farm.  It's the sheeps' turn to give up their woolly coats and dress more appropriately for summer.  The temperatures are supposed to be back up in the 80's after shearing, just in time.  I'm hoping for a nice dry, warm day today to blow away all the moisture from yesterday's constant mist.  Wet wool does not shear well.

This year's sheep shearing will be very exciting for me - we had a good year health-wise in the sheep flock, so our harvest should be much, much better than last year.  We were protected from coyote attacks and other stressors, so the wool should be strong and soft.  I'm really anxious to get my hands into this year's fleeces.

You're cordially invited to come out tomorrow from about 8 AM on to watch this fascinating process.  We'll have a big pot of coffee and some snacks, and some skirting and spinning demonstrations, too.  Park up on the road and walk on down.  Kids are welcome, but please leave pets at home.

Our shearer, Danny Smith is really amazing to watch.  We clocked him at 3 minutes per sheep last year, carefully peeling off a year's growth with ease.  We get a lovely product this way, in contrast to when I tried myself with electric shears, or even with my beloved manual hand shears.  Shearing is an art, best left to the artists.

From last year's shearing day:

 Shadrach under the blades--zip, zip, zip...

 ...and Voila!  A nekkid sheep ready for a Texas summer.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Puppy Progress - Growing Like Weeds

What with all the shearing excitement and preparations, we haven't gotten to peek at the puppies in a while.  Wonder how they're growing?  Check it out.

Vanni is our gentle giant.  Unless you look at him next to Judah, he really looks huge.  His face is full of kindness and quiet, though he can get rowdy when he wants to.  Like when I fill up the water bucket.  That's his invitation to paddle all the water out onto the ground and make mud.

"Who me?"

Look how big his feet are next to mine...

...and how big he is next to the Dogloo...

Then, there's dainty Miss Tella.  Vocal, active, muddy, wily, and delightfully smart.  She has a dear heart, too, but in a mischievous package.

Caught her in a pensive mood.  That hardly ever happens.

When we get shearing out of the way, the puppies' training will begin in earnest.  One thing at a time.

Roller Coaster of Spring

Who needs Six Flags when you're a fiber farmer in spring?  I'm still feeling the wind in my hair from last week's alpaca shearing adventure, and now, in the lull that is Monday, I hear the faint "tick, tick, tick, tick" as the roller coaster car climbs up the next hill.  Hang on, the ride's not over...

Thursday is coming, and with it, our Sheep Shearing Extravaganza (8 AM)!  We'll spend this week gearing up for the wool harvest, which is looking to be a record-breaker.  Lots of long, soft, strong wool on the hoof at feeding time this morning.

Meanwhile, the alpacas are trying to adjust to their fiberlessness and our recent cold snap.  It's 48 degrees, which isn't terribly cold, unless you're used to being in a warm coat and someone takes it away.  They'll adjust in a couple of days, and the temperatures are forecast to go up a lot, later in the week.  That fiber has already started re-growing.  They're working on NEXT year's harvest.

Our colorful line up of old-man alpacas snarf up breakfast.

The Suris, bigger and stronger than last year, fill up on sweet feed.

...and the new guys enjoy peace and quiet from the hazing and chilly breeze.

 It's warm in the house, of course.  My living room is stacked high with fiber!

Tomorrow: Overdue Puppy Update...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Nekkid Alpacas

That's how we say it in Texas - nekkid.  If you're talking about alpacas, it means we've taken off all their beautiful, soft, spin-me-NOW fiber.  It happens once a year, and it's the pinnacle of the fiber CSA cycle.  We still have to clean and process it, but getting the fleeces off is a big hairy deal--pun intended.

New Zealander, Mark Loffhagen, has been shearing alpacas for many years, and sheared about 7000 alpacas last year alone.  He knows his stuff.

The boys have a bit of anxiety as they stand around waiting for their haircuts, after a long trailer ride up to the McCroskie ranch.

But (BLINK) before we know it, all the boys are shorn clean and their beautiful fiber is bundled neatly in bags, ready for the next step.  And the alpacas are so much more comfortable, now that we are headed into a nice warm spring.

Here's one of our two new boys - Asher, who adds the coveted gray fiber to our harvest.  He's a really nice boy with a gentle personality.

The white fellow there in the center is our new boy, Levi, who contributes show-quality white fiber to our offerings.  I even filmed how carefully his blanket fiber was removed:

Shearer Mark is so fast and neat, that the boys are hardly aware of what's going on before they're back up on their feet enjoying the feel of cool air on their skin for the first time in a long time.

Moonstruck, especially, looks kind of little without his big fluffy fleece to give him an imposing presence.

The two new boys are sticking together, which is totally understandable.  It's good that we brought them home on the day that the whole herd was sort of unbalanced by getting sheared.  They almost don't recognize each other.  It puts the new boys on a more level playing field.  They do seem to like their new pasture.

Sometimes, doing chores day after day, rain or shine, cold or hot, gets a little repetitive and tedious.  But I'm always really refreshed by the sight of newly sheared alpacas, with their cartoon character necks and limbs making them look so delicate and sweet.  I'm inspired to do a bunch more halter practice with them, to make them easier to handle through the year, and ultimately, more valuable.  They just look so... exotic.

And now, the urgency to get the fiber skirted and clean is on me.  What a sweet responsibility.  Let's do it!

Friday, March 25, 2011

75 New Spinners

Got the privilege again today of ushering in a new crop of young spinners, all in awe at the magic that is Turning Wool into Yarn.  It was my yearly visit to Hedgecoxe Elementary School in Plano, where the second graders came in three groups to hear about our sheep and alpaca farm, and see how we get from raw fleece to finished garment. 

They hear from last year's second graders how I teach them to spin, and that they get to go home with their own hand spun wool bracelets.  I don't dare NOT show up.

These kids are always a treat - they are attentive, ask great questions, and are not ashamed to show their amazement at all of wool's cool qualities.  And they're really good with a puff of wool and an un-bent paper clip.

The school really puts its heart into this Fine Arts Day every year, welcoming the "artists" with a lovely hospitality suite, stocked with tons of breakfast and lunch noshes.

Thank you, Ms. Arbolino, and all of you at Hedgecoxe, for inviting me again - I wouldn't miss it.


And then, like a whirlwind, Gail and I were off to Greenville, TX to help our pal Amy McCroskie, get a bunch of her alpacas sheared.  That's where we'll be all weekend, if you need us.  I'll have incredible photos and video on Monday.  Got some cool stuff already in the can...

The Red Barn is open if anyone would like to come spin Saturday, but I'll be up the road.  Please make yourselves at home!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New Launch: iShepherd Wear

A big Ta-Da today:  our new JRF t-shirt design!  What do you think?

Samson looks good on a T, doesn't he?  Would you like his face on your chest?

To give everyone the greatest range of choices, I'm going to take pre-orders through the weekend and then I'll stock some here at the farm for sales through the spring.  Now's your chance to guarantee that the size, color and style you want is available. 

Here's what we'll do:  e-mail me at jacobsreward at juno dot com, and let me know your size (adult S-4XL), style (unisex or ladies cut), and color (black, red, blue, teal, emerald).  I'll send you a Paypal invoice for $14, plus $2 if you need it mailed, and I'll turn in the order on Monday.  After that, the price will be $16 plus shipping and you can choose from what we have available.

Ready, set, get dressed!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Don't be Too Jealous

Springtime in Texas means several things.  First, we have tons and tons of Blue Sky.

And blue pastures.  My favorite.

And, shearing time.  Area ranchers are clearing out their barns, sorting last year's fiber to make room for this year's fiber.  Today I sauntered up to Amy McCroskie's ranch (one of our affiliate ranches) to see some of the fleeces she had for sale, to add to our Shareholder Harvest.

Oh. My.  Pounds and pounds of Heaven followed me home - white, gray, rosy-brown.  If you're a shareholder, prepare to drool down your chin.  Fair warning.

If you're not a shareholder, there's still a little time.  Shares (whole and half) will be available until April 15.  We'd love to split all this crimpy, soft, luscious, finger-tantalizing, eye-pleasing alpaca and woolly goodness with you.

If you're missing spring in Texas, I'm so, so sorry.  We'll do our best to enjoy it for you.

Too Much Puppy - Is There Such a Thing?

Because we all need our Recommended Daily Allowance of Puppy, we present these here as a public service:

There.  Feel better?  There's always plenty to go around....