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11/19/10

Permalink 11:08:07 pm, by Karen Email , 487 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Slowing down

It's now approaching Thanksgiving and things are slowing down a bit here on the farm.  The two breeding groups were set up on October 30, about three weeks earlier than we managed last year.  We'll see if it makes a difference.  Sometimes ewes just seem to have their lambs at the same time each Spring no matter what.

On November 11th we took four lambs and two ewes to the Windham Butcher Shop in ME.  We were able to sell all the lambs we had available and there was more interest that we had to turn away, which is hopeful for the future.  The potential is there for raising about 12 lambs next year, as we have 6 ewes being bred, and since this area seems to be saturated as far as selling breeding stock goes, we're trying to focus on meat lambs and take any future breeding stock sales as icing on the cake.  It's hard though when hay and feed in general is so expensive to see how we could even hope to break even just selling meat lambs.  But getting our new pastures up and growing will help as the less hay we need to purchase, the better.

The customers were very happy with their lambs and we were even able to sell to one local small cafe that does dinners focusing on local foods, so that may help us gain some future customers.  The two cull ewes, who were 3 and 4 years old, ended up in our own freezer, and we have taste-tested some ground meat already and it's great! Along with our own duck and chicken, the meat from the ewes, and locally purchased grassfed beef, we are well stocked for the winter.

Our main project now, as long as the weather permits, is expanding our fencing.  We have several hundred feet of fenceline cleared, and much of that has the posts installed. Ken cleared another 100 or so feet by himself on the west side one day while I was off playing at a NH Spinners & Dyers Guild meeting, and that was no small feat, considering it was an area with some large fallen logs, as well as a lot of smaller trees that had been pushed over in all directions by the skidder.  So, now we can finished putting the posts in on the west side and then start working our way across the north end.  At some point we are going to have to borrow or rent an augur to bore large post holes for the gate posts.  Each gate will be comprised of two eight foot tube gates that meet in the middle so that the logging road will still be easily accessible to any large equipment that needs to get through.  Also, since the logging road is a right-of-way for a neighbor, they need to be sturdy and stand up to repeated opening and closing when he needs to get through.

10/12/10

Permalink 12:18:38 am, by Karen Email , 486 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Shearing day!

Today (October 11, ignore date above) was shearing day. We had 3 lambs and 6 ewes, plus a wether to do, and I'm considering whether or not to shear the two rams. I usually don't but one ram has such nice wool it might be worth it. We are not shearing two of the lambs and two other ewes that are going to butcher next month as I want the pelts long. One lamb is a black grey and the other a black mouflon and the pelts from them should be lovely. Two of the 3 lambs sheared are also going to butcher but I wanted their wool which is white. Well, my back gave out after 3 lambs and 4 ewes. Erg. I ate my supper sitting against an ice pack. We've refined our old method of restraint which was basically my husband Ken holding them as still as possible. His back notified him a while ago that it would not accept that kind of abuse anymore, so we had to find another method. Now we have a t-post driven firmly into the ground near the fence. Then we halter each sheep and tie them up very short to the post, with their nose slightly elevated, so they can't get their head down and shift into 4WD. Ken still holds a horn now and then, or uses a knee to keep them in place, and some of them are more squirrelly and put up a struggle, but they can't get away. I still have to bend over to shear though.

Everyone looked good under their wool, which was nice to see. The wool is so interesting in how it varies between individuals. Some had much denser fleece with more lanolin, some had super lofty wool with less lanolin. Some have straight fleece and others corkscrew. One ewe has this incredible fleece like someone gave her a spiral perm. One of the white lambs has fleece so fine that the tips all along her back have unfortunately felted together in clumps and will have to be skirted out before it's sent off to the mill.

As I was shearing one of the freezer lambs, I realized I was looking down at an incredible set of shoulders. You could have put a dinner plate down on them and it wouldn't have wobbled a bit. And she has a nice wide back end too. Oh well. Selling breed stock wasn't in the cards this year, so she's going to go to Camp Kenmore next month. She'll make lovely roasts I guess. Actually, I was pleased with all the lambs we sheared, as far as their conformation goes. One of them is the ram lamb we're keeping, who is feeling his oats and was following each ewe around in the hopes of seeing a little action. Poor guy will just have to wait until next Fall.

I took some photos pre-shearing. Here are a few:

09/02/10

Permalink 01:30:18 pm, by Karen Email , 1243 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Hot, hot summer

As everyone is no doubt aware, this was a very hot summer. Up here, where we usually see only a few 90 degree days, we saw a great many. I wilt in the heat, so getting things done was difficult. We did however have a very good garden this year. Unlike the past two years, which were too rainy and too cool, we certainly didn't suffer for lack of warmth, and the garden responded well. Fortunately, we had probably just enough rain to get by. The southern part of NH had a mini-drought but we caught enough passing showers so that I did not have to water plants that were in the ground.

The good thing about drier weather is that the late blight seems to have missed us, and the tomatoes are doing very well. I had enough space for six Early Girl and two cherry tomato plants, one Sweet Million, and one called a "raisin tomato" because it's supposed to be good for drying. It is a very sweet small cherry tomato. All the tomatoes are doing tremendously, especially the cherries. I think I'll be overrun with them, but I'm not complaining.

I also put in 6 cabbage plants and have already harvested them and made 15 lbs of sauerkraut (still in progress in a crock in the cellar). That's not a lot of sauerkraut but I'm the only one who eats it around here, so it's enough. I left the cabbage plants in the ground and just removed the heads, and the cabbages are now producing lots of small cabbages around where the main head used to be. I'll harvest those and use them fresh. They should make good single serving portions (I'm also the only one who eats cabbage).

The basil has flowered and the bees are loving it. You walk out to the garden and all you hear is "bzzzzzzzz... bzzz.... bzzzzzzzzzzzzz". I've already made some pesto and will make some more.

We had two "volunteer" sunflowers come up amongst the aforementioned cabbages. Actually a whole bunch came up in a small area no bigger than 2 inches in diameter, planted there by some critter. I pulled out all but two. They have flowered and have big happy sunny yellow faces. I've always wanted to grow sunflowers but never made space for them, so this was a nice surprise.

The garlic was harvested in July and has been hanging in the woodshed drying since then. It's probably about time to cut them down and store them until planting time in October. The chickens got into the garden this spring and were digging around in the nice soft fluffy raised beds looking for bugs and worms, and managed to decimate some of the garlic crop, so hopefully I'll have enough large cloves to plant the same amount again this year.

The only thing that hasn't done well are the peppers. They were supposed to be Early Bell, but although they are big and green and healthy, there is a serious lack of fruit on the plants. This morning I saw one small green pepper and a few more very tiny ones starting, but nothing else. Not sure what the problem was there.

In non-garden news, Ken has been doing a phenomenal job of clearing the slash from the logging last summer/fall. He couldn't start on it until mid-summer really because of a spring back injury, but he's made a huge amount of progress. I admit to looking at the mess and feeling pretty hopeless, but he picked a spot and waded in and started pulling out all the good firewood and piling the rest into piles for burning later. He said he felt sort of hopeless too, but his motivation came from knowing there was good firewood in there. As a result we have a woodshed more than half full. It would hold about 8 cords if it was completely full, and we only use about 2 cords per winter.

The other way to clear it would be to hire someone with a dozer to come in and push it all up into a long pile, but that would mean losing the firewood, having a big ugly pile, and probably losing a good amount of topsoil. This way, we save the soil, and have smaller piles that we can burn easily. It's much slower this way, but sometimes doing things faster isn't always the best.

I just realized that I haven't given a lamb report for this spring! We had 6 ewes bred, but only 4 caught. One that didn't was a ewe that rejected one of her lambs last year, and then spent the winter bullying the other ewes, so she is being culled this fall. The other ewe that didn't lamb I think was just in too poor a condition last fall, and there was something else going on with her as well. I wormed her and gave her a tonic drench and extra Selenium-Vitamin E and she came through the winter OK. She was never really "sick", but I think her poor condition after lactation last year, probably combined with worms contributed to her lack of lambing this year. She looks great now of course and I expect will have no trouble getting pregnant this fall!

She spent half the summer stealing supplement rations from the lactating ewes and was then moved over to pasture where she has continued to thrive. I think that last year when I had all the lactating ewes and their lambs on pasture (thinking that would be the best thing for them) that they all got too thin due to the quality of the pasture available and for some reason it affected her the most. It's not the best pasture but is fine for maintaining non-lactating animals, and last year's too much rain/too little warmth didn't help the pasture grow well either. So this year I kept all the ewes with lambs here and they have been on hay and a ration of mixed soybean meal/alfalfa pellets/beet pulp pellets/Shepherd 16 and what little grass we have available, and they've all done much better.

Anyway, of the four ewes that did lamb, three had singles, and one had twins for a total of 5 lambs. Two are white, one is black, and we have one black mouflon and one black grey for a nice variety of color. All are horned. No moorit though, which is my favorite. I think we may be keeping the black ram lamb as a replacement ram, and the rest of the lambs are ewes and will probably all end up as freezer lambs if they aren't sold for breeding stock.

We are trying to cut our ewe flock back a bit so I have put some up for sale. We "should" have our newly cleared area fenced by next spring and we've been working hard to get grass growing in the new field. We even spread manure by hand, scooping it into the tractor's loader, driving it up to the field, and forking it out of the loader bucket and spreading it around. The soil isn't bad for NH, but every little bit of extra organic matter helps. We would like to be able to keep all of our sheep here, instead of having to put some of them on the borrowed pasture a few miles away, so having a slightly smaller ewe flock will help with being able to do that.

05/04/10

Permalink 09:06:00 pm, by Karen Email , 369 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Things that go "schnargle" in the night

Last night, sometime after midnight, I was roused out of sleep by our dog, Jake, bark-bark-barking at something only he could hear. Jake is an English Shepherd, also commonly known as a farmcollie, and he is very serious about "things that don't belong here".

So I tottered downstairs, to be met by Jake who quickly ran back towards the door. I opened the door a crack, and listened and heard "something" very odd. I then let Jake out and he roared out the door giving his "I'm 150lbs of badness and you don't want to mess with me" bark. In actuality he only weighs about 50lbs, but he barks bigger, and don't tell the critters out there, but he's really quite a softie, although he's given our rams what-for a couple times and they respect him.

Anyway, I stepped out behind him with my trusty LED flashlight, and from somewhere down the slope behind our house I heard:

ARGHSNARFSCHNARGLEBLORG

Now, that gave me pause. I normally don't fear things in the woods, even at night, but my brain simply could not come up with any realistic possibilities for THAT sound. A rabid pig? The Tazmanian Devil? At about that time Jake went blasting down the slope barking and I followed him to the edge and aimed the flashlight down the hill. Nothing. The noise had stopped, and Jake was casting back and forth for scent. I started sweeping the light back and forth and then tried up and down. AHA! About 30ft up a tree at the bottom of the slope I caught a couple pairs of eyeballs staring back. It was too far away to see what owned the eyeballs, but they were definitely there and were moving about. They kept turning away and then back towards my light.

After a few minutes I called Jake back and we went back into the house.

The consensus seems to be raccoons, most likely, fighting over some morsel, or perhaps territory. Or perhaps raccoons normally go about their business sounding like that?

Whatever it was, they got the message and did not come back for the remainder of the night. Or maybe they did but kept their vocalizations to whispers.

04/04/10

Permalink 09:22:58 pm, by Karen Email , 346 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Goofy people

So, our sheep paddock is fairly close to the stone wall which forms the boundary between us and one of our neighbors. They had guests over today. I was out doing afternoon chores and had already fed the sheep and was up feeding and watering the chickens. Our poultry are near the house, and I was in the chicken pen refilling their water, when I heard a deep male voice:

"BAA-A-A-A-A-AAAA" (rinse, repeat)

I look over past the sheep paddock and there is one of my neighbor's visitors, a guy in shorts and no shirt, up on the stone wall baa-ing at the sheep, who were eating and not terribly interested in the strange human making noises at them.

I don't think the man noticed me where I was standing in the chicken pen, but then I went into the duck pen with the hose to refill their water tub. By then the man had been joined by his wife or girlfriend and a toddler-aged child on the stone wall. He was continuing his serenade of the sheep who continued to ignore him.

When I moved into the duck pen and began filling the water tub and staring at these people, I think they saw me because they quickly climbed down off the wall and told the little girl to "say bye-bye!", presumably to the sheep (who still didn't care).

Now, who hasn't driven past a field with cows and said "Moo" out the window? But, I have yet to walk up to some farmer's field or barn yard and stand there mooing at his cows. And I have to wonder if I appeared in this person's yard and started barking at his dog or talking baby-talk to his toddler, exactly what he would think of it? I doubt he would appreciate it. He'd probably call the cops and have me arrested. However, for some reason, he thought it was OK to stand on my stone wall and "BAA" at my sheep. Not that it caused any harm... but... WHY?

I do not understand some people.

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Sharing ideas from our small farm in NH, where we raise Icelandic sheep and assorted poultry. We are members of ISBONA (Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America) and the CLRC (Canadian Livestock Records Corporation). We also participate in the Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification Program (NH54). Contact us at karen [at] birchtreefarm [dot] com. Please also visit the farm website at Birchtree Farm.
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