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03/11/10

Permalink 01:41:04 pm, by Karen Galle Email , 643 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Spring Fever

Spring is coming, and it can't get here fast enough. Someone mentioned Spring fever earlier today, and I agree - I am tired of cold and want warmth and green things.

It's not that we had a bad winter. We had lower than normal snowfall amounts, and it didn't get particularly cold. I think it might have gotten as low as -13F on a few nights. We did get a January thaw and then no precipitation for most of February until the very end where we got almost 3 inches of rain in one storm. After getting a taste of warmer weather recently, with Spring-like days reaching to 50F (even if the nights drop back below freezing) you start to want more and more of that, and less of the cold.

We are also getting closer to lambing time. Based on when I put the breeding groups together, we should start getting lambs in mid-April. Last year we started on April 23rd and finished by May 1st. I'm thinking this year that the lambs are going to be coming over a longer timeframe though. We should start around April 15th, and could end up with lambs still coming in mid-May. I was trying to avoid that by having the breeding groups set up a little earlier than last season, but the sheep had their own ideas I guess.

Other things coming up this year - more fencing! We haven't done serious fencing work since we left NY. Ken built the paddock we have, with help from his Dad and aunt, soon after he moved up here, but since then our only fencing has been putting up and expanding the poultry yards. The reason was that we had more trees than open space. Since the logging was done, now we have open pasture space, but also a boatload of slash cleanup to do, and clearing of fencelines so we can run the fence. That will have to wait for the rest of the snow to disappear though, so we've been working on other projects.

One thing I finally did yesterday was to clean up the kitchenette area in the apartment so I could properly store and find sheep supplies, not to mention having some room to work. I had some things in our kitchen, some things in storage totes, and some things in the kitchenette. That area had become a catch-all for various stuff, as it's right inside the door from the shed/workshop. For instance, one side of the counter was full of Things That Should Not Be Frozen such as paint and spackle and caulking. They came inside from the unheated shed last Fall and made it as far as the counter, where they've been sitting all winter, collecting dust. On the other side of the sink area I had my tote I use for carrying sheep stuff out when I need to work with the sheep, worming, or trimming hooves, or giving vaccinations, etc. It needed to be cleaned out and restocked for lambing season. There are built-in shelves to the right of the countertop that had also collected various things that could be put elsewhere. I also organized my notebooks and paperwork and threw out a lot of old stuff that wasn't needed anymore, and put the notebooks on those shelves, reorganized the cupboards, and cleaned everything with soap and water. Ta-da! No, you don't get to see a "before" photo - use your imagination!

There's also wood to be cut and split for next winter, and the garden to plan and expand, and the house needs the siding re-stained, and, and, and..... but we have to try to take things one (or maybe two) at a time and try not to get feeling too overwhelmed.

As someone once said, "Do one thing at a time, and use both hands."

01/21/10

Permalink 12:28:19 pm, by Karen Email , 461 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Winter

Winter is here and I haven't felt much like blogging. We were in the throes of get-it-done-before-the-snow-gets-here for most of the fall, especially November. Fortunately the snow held off for the most part until December. We got a little bit early in the month, but the first big snow arrived on the 9th.

Just before it arrived, we finally got the roof part of the solar hot water system done. During Thanksgiving week, when my parents were visiting, my dad and Ken got the collector rack mounted on the porch roof. That left the plumbing part to finish. This was what we completed just before the snow came, and then Ken had to finish the plumbing in the basement. The system is an Apricus-30 which uses vaccuum tubes mounted on the above-mentioned rack to heat glycol which flows down into the basement and through a heat exchanger where it preheats the domestic hot water. Pretty nifty.

Earlier in November we bought two yearling ewes from Dancing Lamb Farm in NY, bringing our adult ewe count up to 6. We made two breeding groups with them and our two rams, each ram having 3 ewes. This year we constructed our breeding pens with a 6-8 foot no sheep zone in between to avoid the kind of problems we had a year ago (see "Merry Christmas, we broke the fence!" from December 2008). So far it is working well. The breeding groups were put together on November 22nd. Lambing should happen starting mid-April and continue through mid-May. I was actually hoping to have most of the lambs come earlier in the year than they did last year, and put the breeding groups together earlier. But I think at least one ewe will be lambing mid-May-ish, where last year we were all done by May 1st. Oh well!

We also have two ewe lambs that I didn't want to breed. They are spending the winter with our wether, Oliver, in a separate pen up behind the house. They are cute, but demanding, and it doesn't help that they can see us through the windows of the house. "Bring us hay now, hay wench!"

Also in mid-November we sent 3 lambs and a 2 year old ewe to the butcher. Two of the lambs were breeding quality, but not many people were in the market for breeding stock this year, so we sold them for meat. We didn't have the space or hay to keep them over the winter. The other lamb and the ewe were necessary culls to keep the quality of our flock up.

So now it's just the usual mid-winter chore routine, pretty much. Fortunately we have not had the amount of snow that fell in the last two winters. Here are a couple of winter scenes.

11/01/09

Permalink 12:12:49 am, by Karen Email , 874 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Halloween Horror! (it's not what you think)

Plumbing... ugh. Let's just say that whoever plumbed the drain system from the apartment through to the main house did a thoroughly bass-ackward job. Long-time readers will remember how the drains froze up last winter, and how we had to scramble to get the other bathroom in working order.

Well, Ken's been working under the house, in the crawl space, to get floors insulated, wires rerouted, and ultimately, to get the drains fixed. The problem was that there was apparently very little slope, and, "creative" joins where all the various drains came together into one, including a Fernco coupling which was never meant to be used in such a fashion. Do you know what happens when water freezes inside an improperly fitted Fernco? It expands, and leaks, and forms "icicles" from the coupling down to the ground, under the house. We know because we stuck our heads under there last year and saw the spectacle.

Ugh.

So, Ken finally got to the point where he could work on the drainpipes, which entailed digging out quite a bit of soil so he'd have room to maneuver under there. The original plan was to push the pipes up, as they'd obviously been hung up before (but the plastic hangers broke) and re-hang them. Last night that was what we tried to do, with Ken under the house, and me inside. Except, there wasn't enough space to push the pipe up enough to get the slope. It would just run into the floor joists between the first and second floor and couldn't go any farther. I should mention that the apartment has an upstairs half-bath and a downstairs full bath. The drainpipes for the upstairs bath run through the ceiling and then down next to the end of the staircase where the PVC pipe is visible for all to see and then down through the floor and underneath the house. The ceiling fortunately is made of rough barn boards so they can be taken down fairly easily to expose all the lovely plumbing.

After examining all this it became apparent that the vertical length of pipe running from the second floor down to the first was too long. And since the other bits and pieces up there in the ceiling had been leaking in various spots, it was decided to just take it all apart, and start over. Today therefore we made a trip to Home Depot and picked up all the necessary parts and got home and Ken started sawing through pipe and removing it bit by bit.

Then things got really interesting. He was upstairs in the half-bath where he'd had to cut a hole in the wall behind the toilet (after removing said toilet) to get to the vent pipe which goes up through the eave space and through the roof. He suspected that the coupling used to to join the vent wasn't glued, and indeed, it was just jammed on tight and not glued, which explained why we had periodic leaks. So he was up there examining that and I was downstairs, on the computer, writing a blog entry in fact, when the lights simply went out. No flickering, no warning, just out. Well, it was pretty windy and apparently a power line was taken out somewhere. So, now we have a dismantled drain system, and Ken's all dirty from crawling around under the house, and there's stuff all over, and we have no power. Oh, and did I mention it was raining?

What to do but press on! We got the generator out, plugged in some worklights (and our freezer), and kept going.

To make this long story slightly shorter, once Ken was able to get all the old parts out from under the house, he started to hang tees and wyes under there so he could measure to cut pipe to make the joins, and also so he could get the right slope..... except.... as currently configured, there is no slope to be had. See, where all of this rigamarole enters the basement of the main house, the pipe is up too high (it goes through an old window which is boarded up). From where the pipe enters through the old window, back to where the pipe comes down through the floor in the apartment, there is virtually no slope at all, and no way to get any slope because the pipe has to run across the floor joists, and it bumps up against them. The only way to get the required slope is going to be to lower the drain pipe where it enters through the window and runs into the basement of the main house. Fortunately, once it goes through the window it drops straight down for a distance before heading along the wall to the other end where it goes out to the septic. So, there is room to lower it, without messing up the drainage on the inside of the house.

About the time that Ken finished getting the old bits out from under the apartment, the power did come back on, so that was one bright spot (no pun intended) in this whole mess. But you can see why this Halloween turned into such a horror!

10/28/09

Permalink 06:05:34 pm, by Karen Email , 153 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Pelts for sale

Link: http://birchtreefarm.com/pelts.html

Seems I have a bit of catching up to do blog-wise, but I did want to share that we now have some beautiful Icelandic sheepskin pelts for sale on our farm website, here.

These were professionally tanned using a method that produces a pelt that does not require dry-cleaning. They can simply be washed in water with mild soap, or even shampoo, and washing instructions will be included. These pelts are very soft and supple, due to the lower number of wool follicles per square inch in this breed as compared with some other breeds. They can be used in many ways, including for rugs, chair or sofa throws, cushions, wall hangings, crafts, to keep your car seat warmer in the winter and many other uses.

Here is one example, just to tempt you to take a look at the full listing. :-) A 12-inch ruler was laid on the pelt for scale.

09/07/09

Permalink 12:10:19 am, by Karen Email , 295 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Woodshed, coop, and hay shelter

Ken's parents have been visiting, and while here they have been helping us get our leftover firewood from last year restacked in the new woodshed. This was not as simple as just moving the old stack to the woodshed. Much of the wood was from a couple of cords that we had bought last year. Our woodstove will only take 17 inch lengths max, and a lot of it was in lengths of 18 - 22 inches or so. And much of it was in huge chunks that would be too unwieldy to load in the stove and those needed to be split. That meant sorting the too-long and too-thick ones out and dealing with them. So, I was sorting and stacking, Ken's dad was manning the bandsaw, Ken's mom was marking the pieces to be cut and helping to stack, and Ken was splitting the pieces that were too thick. Then there was a pile of small-diameter stuff that just needed stacking, for the most part, but some longer lengths that needed to be cut down. It took about a day and a half but finally it was done.

We also built a new coop this summer. It's been done and has been inhabited for several weeks by our new batch of laying pullets, but I hadn't taken any photos of it after getting it painted. Here are a couple.

And this was the other project we started today after finishing with the woodpile. This is the roof frame of what will be our new hay shelter. We bought the kit from ShelterLogic. It's 12W x 24L x 11H at the peak. This is as far as we got this afternoon. Tomorrow we put the legs on it, anchor it, and get the cover on.... I hope!

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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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