Friday, November 30, 2007

Where Are the Dakotas?

I'm too tired to think of anything significant to write about today, so instead I'm going to write about something completely trivial. It's something I've been wondering about for a while now.

I use Feedburner to keep track of the traffic to this blog. It's not a lot of traffic, but it's just fun for me to see that a few dozen people a day are reading what I write here, and it's fun to see all the different places where the visitors come from.

So the thing I've been (half-jokingly) wanting to ask is:

Where are the folks from North and South Dakota? Why don't they visit me? Was it something I said? Do I smell, or something? (Well, okay, I've been out doing chores, so we probably know the answer to that question right now).

What I mean is, this blog has had visitors from 48 states plus Washington, DC. It's had visitors from 26 countries on every continent on the planet except Antarctica. But as far as I can tell, no one from either of the Dakotas has stopped by. Where are they?

Heck, since I'm asking anyway, what about Antarctica? It's too cold down there to do anything but stay huddled inside reading blogs on the internet, right? Why not mine?

I'm kidding, really. I'm actually amazed and honored that so many people from all over the world have visited my blog. And I'm so grateful to all of you who have sent me words of encouragement and support. Things have been tough around here lately, and your kindness has been very uplifting on some of my hard days.

If our farm ever manages to get over this slump, I hope to reward you for sticking with me through the tough times by having lots and lots of entertaining, happy things to write about in the months to come.

Meanwhile, if you want to help me in my quest for world domination through blogging, tell all your friends in the Dakotas and Antarctica to stop by here and leave a comment on the blog to say "hi."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Icelandic Fleeces Galore!

It took me just about all day, but I finally got all my new fall fleeces sorted, photographed, priced, and descriptions written of them. I still need to put them up on my sheep website, but it's quicker and faster to post them here, so here's a sneak preview.

Even if you're not in the market for wool, Icelandic fleeces are so beautiful, you may enjoy looking at all the pretty colors and textures.

07F-01 Sarah 3 lb. 5 oz.
Rich, plush fleece, soft and very crimpy. Pale creamy white and palest beige threaded throughout with black to give an overall impression of warm, smoky, pale silver.
$53.00 plus shipping

07F-02 Sedona 3 lb. 4 oz.
Long, lush fleece of charcoal black, threaded lightly throughout with pale silver/beige threads. A few cream-colored locks mixed in from her mouflon pattern. Very soft and smooth for an adult fleece. Similar to a lamb fleece in texture, soft enough to be worn next to the skin.
$52.00 plus shipping

07F-03 Suzette 1 lb. 13 oz.
Lamb-soft. Pale silver thel under long soft locks of black-tipped tog, threaded lightly with silver. Soft enough to be worn next to the skin.
$29.00 plus shipping

07F-04 Savannah 2 lb. 11 oz.
The palest of this year's silver fleeces. Thick, soft, creamy-pale thel, lightly threaded with strands of black. Soft, long tog of silver gray threaded with black. Soft enough to be worn next to the skin.
$43.00 plus shipping

07F-05 Poppy 2 lb. 9 oz.
Thick, soft, abundant fleece. Creamy white thel. Long soft ringlets of tog threaded throughout with pale golden-brown.
$30.75 plus shipping

07F-06 Persia 2 lb. 9 oz.
Soft, dense, fleece in a complex blend of warm, smoky silvers, grays, and charcoal blacks. Extra crimpy---should be pleasant to spin. This fleece has less tog than average, so if the soft thel is your favorite part, this fleece gives you more for your money.
$30.75 plus shipping

07F-07 Nicholai 4 lb. 2 oz.
Our heaviest fleece of the year from the King of our flock. A thick lion's mane of fleece in beautifully complex shades of chestnut, taupe, and golden brown, threaded ever so lightly throughout with silver. The tog is long and fairly coarse. The thel is dense and medium-soft. This fleece was sheared from a mature ram during breeding season, so it has a strong but not unpleasant "sheepy" smell, which will wash out.
$49.50 plus shipping

07F-08 Tansy (Lamb fleece) 2 lb. 11 oz.
Photos can't do this fleece justice. It's one of the nicest fleeces of the year. I bred this lamb specifically for her fleece qualities, and with this, her first shearing, she proved to be everything I was hoping for. The fleece is soft, luscious, and incredibly thel-rich and abundant for a lamb fleece. Rich, lustrous, cloud-soft thel and long, soft lustrous tog. The color is cream with a touch of coffee that shines faintly golden in the sunlight.
$43.00 plus shipping

07F-09 Teasle (Lamb fleece) 1 lb. 11 oz.
Again, photos can't do this one justice. This may be the year's softest fleece. Identical in color to Tansy's fleece, above, this one is not quite as thel-rich, but is even softer and more stunningly lustrous.
$27.00 plus shipping

07F-10 Tutankhamen (Lamb fleece) 2 lb. 13. oz.
Soft, abundant lamb fleece full of gorgeous, complex shades of silvery-taupe, dark chestnut, and foxy-colored golden brown. Long, soft corkscrews of tog, plus thel that is so baby-soft and lustrous that it sparkles in sunlight. There's a little VM in this one, but the color and quality of the fleece makes it worth the effort.
$33.75 plus shipping

07F-11 Titan (Lamb fleece) 1 lb. 5 oz.
Long, soft locks of cloudy taupe and foxy golden-brown. Beautifully complex, rich color on a soft lamb fleece.
$21.00 plus shipping

07F-12 Tundra (Lamb fleece) 1 lb. 9 oz.
Soft, creamy white lamb fleece. If you prefer fleeces with a slightly shorter staple length, this one's for you.
$18.75 plus shipping

07F-13 Pandora 2 lb. 12 oz.
Long, curly, medium-soft tog and dense, crimpy, soft thel, all in creamy white. This one has a little VM in it, but there's still plenty of nice fiber in there.
$33.00 plus shipping

07F-14 Paisley 2 lb. 9 oz.
One of my best fleece sheep, known for the beautiful luster of her wool. Long, soft, curly white tog. Rich, fine, creamy white thel.
$41.00 plus shipping

07F-15 Taj (Lamb fleece) 2 lb. 3 oz.
Photos don't do this one justice---this is my nicest white fleece of the year. Long, soft, curly locks of creamy tog and abundant, pure-white thel so super-fine and lustrous you'd think it was blended with silk. More VM than I'd like, but the fleece quality is so superb, it's well worth the extra effort.
$26.25 plus shipping

07F-16 Regina 2 lb. 8 oz.
Plush, thick, abundant fleece. Medium-soft tog forms long ringlets of black, threaded with enough silver to look dark gray. Thel is pale, lustrous silver, very rich and crimpy.
$30.00 plus shipping

07F-17 Paris 3 lb.
A very pretty mix of crimpy pale silver thel and curly gray/black tog gives this medium-soft fleece a lovely silver-gray heathery tone.
$36.00 plus shipping

07F-18 Trouble (Lamb fleece) 1 lb. 14 oz.
Silky soft lamb fleece. Long, soft curls of charcoal/chocolate tog make a beautiful, complex contrast with the baby-fine thel that is such a rich, lustrous gray that it looks almost blue. Plus, this lamb comes with a story! See my farm blog to hear all about her adventures!
$30.00 plus shipping

07F-19 Salem 3 lb. 1 oz.
Exceptionally soft for an adult fleece---more like a lamb fleece in texture. Very complex coloring for a black sheep: mostly dark charcoal/chocolate tones, but with locks of silvery chestnut and pale---almost blond---taupe. Gorgeous, and soft enough to be worn next to the skin.
$49.00 plus shipping

07F-20 Rhonwen 2 lb. 8 oz.
My best fleece sheep---her fleece last year was so good it generated fan mail! Long, lamb-soft, and lustrous. Pale, silky, creamy-golden tog with the softest, silkiest thel of pale cloudy smoke color, plus some locks of charcoal black mixed in from her badger markings. This one's a treasure!
$40.00 plus shipping

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Done With Shearing

We finished the last of the shearing today. There were only four sheep with prime fleeces left, plus a few that had wool break earlier this summer. Since their fleeces weren't worth shearing to sell, we just trimmed the matted bits of the wool break off and left them with the remainder of their coats to keep them warm for the winter.

The nerve-wracking part of the process was catching Nicholai. He is a very polite and dignified ram, extremely well behaved. But if we scare him, he can get very dangerous. If he was frightened enough to charge, he could easily put me in the hospital. So, as always when I want to handle him, I had to charm him rather than force him.

As soon as I approached him with the lead rope in my hand, he knew I was going to try to catch him. I never chase him or try to corner him. I talk to him. I bend down, look him in the eye, and say his name repeatedly until I get him to stop and look at me. Then I approach and scratch him under the chin. I never take the next step until I can see that he's calm.

The next step is trying to hold onto his horns, which didn't really work today. I got a good grip, but he's so strong, he just twitched his head and wrenched my hand loose. Then I had to start over charming him again, to try to get a rope over his head instead.

I ended up having to follow him around the catch pen for a few minutes and finally just tossed the loop of rope over his horn to catch him. Once the rope is on him, he stops and becomes very polite to handle.

We led him to the shearing stand with a little grain to coax him along, since it's easier to move him that way than to try to drag a large, muscular ram by force. Once on the stand, he stood perfectly still, with immense dignity, for the whole shearing process.

As I expected, as soon as he and his ewes were sheared, he got all excited about all the sheepy nakedness, and spent the rest of the afternoon chasing his girls around.

We got more than 4 lbs. of fleece off him. Although his wool is rather coarse, I always like it. I keep thinking how great it would be to make felted boots or a long winter coat out of his thick wool. But I have no time for projects like that, so his fleece will go up for sale with the others.

That'll be part of my project for tomorrow---photographing all the fleeces so I can list them for sale.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sorting Out

No immediate progress on the money front today, but I finally started making headway at some of my various projects that have been piling up.

I got my horse sales list recreated and sent out. I worked on two of the websites I'd promised people. I spent a bunch of time on the phone with my sister Donna sorting out which horses I will send up to her house if I can't sell them here soon.

It's very hard to decide which horses to keep without being able to see what kind of foals they'll produce with Senter.

For instance, I'm not particularly bonded with my mare Bonnie, but the foal she produced this year (to Art Deco, a famous Dutch Warmblood stallion) is spectacular. If she will produce that kind of foal with Senter as well, she would be a valuable one to keep, even if she's not my favorite. She's registered AND homozygous for tobiano, so those are marks in her favor.

Then there's Callisto. I picked her when she was a little weanling, and have raised her for two years now. She's turning out SO beautifully, awesome gaits and personality, and is going to be very tall. But she's gray, which is not a plus in a pinto broodmare, since she'll pass that gray on to half her foals.

Of course, the palomino and buckskin fillies, Torchsong and Callista, are high on my list to keep, simply because of their desirable color, their height, and the fact that they too are homozygous tobiano. But they are still young---I have no proof of what kind of foals they'll produce with Senter.

The only ones that I KNOW I'm not parting with are the two Art Deco fillies, Glory and Grace, and my stallion Senter. Other than that, it's all up in the air. How many can I sell? How many can Donna find homes for? How many can I afford to keep? What's the best business decision? What's the best emotional decision? When emotion and business decisions hang in balance, how do you decide between them?

With so much indecision and waiting going on, it was a relief to make some solid progress on some of my concrete, hands-on projects today. At least I can feel like I accomplished something today!

Monday, November 26, 2007


I'm feeling really discouraged lately. I keep experiencing so many pointless little glitches to everything I attempt that lately it seems like I can't successfully accomplish even one simple task during the day.

One of the people who supposedly was sending me a deposit on a horse two weeks ago seems to have vanished off the face of the earth, with no check ever delivered. Money issues are scarily bad. We're out of hay. We were supposed to get a new load delivered today, but the people never showed up, so the broodmares had to go hungry. The hay people have said the load will be here first thing in the morning.

Ken figured out what was wrong with my computer, fixed it, and set back up in my office. I went to start work this morning, and voila---no network connection, which means no internet, which means, once again, I can't do my work from my own computer and have to wait to use Ken's. Ken looked at it briefly and couldn't find what was wrong, but he had his own work stuff to deal with today and didn't have time to figure out my problem.

So, I figured I'd do one simple thing: send out a horse sales list to someone who said they might know someone who'd be interested in one of my horses. I spent an hour looking for the sales list among the files Ken had transferred from my problem computer to his computer, only to discover it wasn't there. I found it on my computer, but---whoops, no network connection, so I can't get it to his computer to update it. Just one simple task, and it took half the afternoon just to figure out that I'm going to have to recreate the thing from scratch.

We haven't been able to finish shearing the last few sheep, because it's been raining. I have quite a few people who have specifically said they want to buy various sheep products (fleeces, skulls, horns), but even though the sales seemed definite, everyone seems to have vanished without actually taking the final step to send us money.

I'm so tired of worrying about money. My sister Donna is helping as much as she can, bless her! But her situation is as tough as ours, so I hate to put any strain on her.

We need to get rid of most of the horses. I've known that for months now, but with the market as it is, it's easier said than done. I think Donna may take a couple that I can't bear to sell to strangers, and she's going to try to help me place some of the others.

But if we don't make some progress in that direction soon, it's going to be a choice between paying the mortgage and buying hay. I don't want to have to make that choice.

I just want to put this whole horse fiasco behind us and concentrate on the farm as a whole again. I'm looking forward to our spring lambs. If we can manage it, in the spring, we want to get chickens. They wouldn't be to raise for a profit, just to provide eggs and meat for us.

I'm so tired of needing money to be the desperate, central focus of my thoughts every day and night. Money has never been my raison d'etre. I would rather do work I love for little pay than be rich at a job that doesn't capture my heart. But this farm means a lot to me, and I'll fight to keep it if I have to.

It just gets so discouraging when all the stupid little meaningless obstacles keep piling up on top of the large, genuine problems. It all gets to be too much sometimes. Hence my whiny posts to this blog!

Still... I try to think of at least one positive thing to talk about in each post. Today that is the fact that the sheep are mating. I think lambing time will be short this spring. For the longest time, none of my ewes were in heat, and now they're all coming into heat at once. Which means that the lambs will probably all start popping out at once in April. There's nothing better than waiting for lambs!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Naked Sheep

We're going to our friends' house for our official Thanksgiving day tomorrow, so we didn't do anything holiday-like today. Instead, we sheared some more sheep, trying to get as many done as possible before the predicted rainy period swept in.

We sheared most of Taj's flock today. He is so funny! He REALLY likes his ewes naked. As soon as we started shearing them all, he got all excited and couldn't help himself from chasing them around (and around and around...) all afternoon. Nicholai is like that too, but we haven't sheared his ewes yet.

It started raining just as we were finished one sheep, so I didn't get a chance to take any photos, but I wish I could have gotten one of Taj's face. When we shear the sheep, if we nick any of them with the clippers, we spray the wound with Blue-Kote to prevent infection. The sheep end up with splotches of purple on them, as if they'd been attacked by a not-particularly-talented graffiti artist.

Taj was so enthusiastic about courting his girls after they were sheared, that by the end of the day his whole muzzle---including his tongue---was purple from nuzzling and kissing the ewes with the Blue-Kote on them. He looked like a kid who'd been messily eating a big purple popsicle!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Just a (Mostly) Bad Day

We sheared some more sheep today. Overall, it went okay, but just lots of little things went wrong that turned it into a bad day.

Several of the sheep struggled and rolled themselves into the hay and leaves as we were catching them to be sheared... putting lots of leafy junk into the gorgeous prime fleeces, which we then had to brush and pick out before we could shear, or else the fleeces would have been contaminated.

Ken knocked over the container of vitamin drench that I was giving to each of the sheep after they were sheared, and it all spilled onto the ground and was wasted.

I badly sprained a muscle in my calf, so now walking is slow and painful.

A sheep Ken was leading got away from him and crashed into me from behind, causing me to cut myself on the gate I was opening at the moment.

The check from one of the people who is buying a horse from me has not arrived---more than a week late---and we were counting on that money to pay our mortgage payment, because we used our mortgage payment money to buy hay.

I'm getting really discouraged about the whole horse situation. I wish they could just be gone, so Ken wouldn't have to worry so much about money. I can't even update my website yet, to help sell them, because Ken is still copying files from my dead computer onto his computer.

On the bright side, while he was doing that, he discovered something that might indicate that he can fix my computer after all. We're copying the files over anyhow, because I don't dare to trust that my computer will be fixed until I see it working consistently for several days in a row!

One cool thing about today: my sister Donna, who is an award-winning nature artist, has crafted a gorgeous one-of-a-kind walking stick for me to sell to help my farm. How much do you think I should charge for it? Can you think of a better place to sell this kind of thing than EBay?

One-of-a-kind, hand-carved, hand-painted cherry wood walking stick. The sorrel and white pony has real horsehair mane and forelock, a rawhide war bridle, and decorative face painting. Four bells on colored thread finish his costume. The staff is oiled with a natural oil.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sheep Shearing

We finally got our clipper blades back from being sharpened. The weather today was mild, so we started shearing the sheep today. We don't shear them the traditional way, flipping them upside down and all that. My back would never stand up to that.

Instead, we put the sheep on a shearing stand and shear them standing up. Even so, we're not very fast at it, so this afternoon we only got six sheep done (including hoof trimming each one as well as shearing).

The weather is supposed to be warm tomorrow too, so we're going to try to get as many sheared as possible before the rainy cold front comes in. I feel bad for the poor sheep, because we're shearing them a month later than usual, which means they have that much less time to grow more fleece before the truly cold weather hits.

On the other hand, it means that our fall fleeces are that much more abundant, having had an extra month to grow. Some of these fleeces are really exquisite!

This one is Teasle's. I think it is the softest fleece of the year. Absolutely heavenly.

As far as breeding season goes, it was definitely Paris who got bred last night, because she was still in heat this morning. I suspect that Nicholai and Pandora may have bred last night too, because when I came out this morning they were lying down right next to each other. Normally the ewes don't lie down next to the ram unless they're in heat.

Looks like a lot of our lambs are going to be born at once come April!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Making Lambs!

Okay, mark your calendars folks---we've got sheep breeding happening here as of tonight. It was hard to tell who it was in the dark, with the sheep silhouetted against the headlights of the truck as we were getting hay, but I'm pretty sure Tut bred both Trouble and Paris (in the dark, Paris and Regina look an awful lot alike, but I think it was Paris). That means their lambs should arrive around April 9-11 (Icelandic sheep have a slightly shorter gestation period than other breeds).

This is pretty much prime breeding time right now, so the majority of the ewes should be getting pregnant in the next couple of weeks.

There may have been a few breedings prior to this that I didn't happen to witness. Sarah was looking rather friendly with Taj on Saturday, but I didn't actually see them do anything, so I can't be sure.

I'm greatly relieved now... I have concrete evidence that there WILL be lambs in the spring. I don't know if other shepherds are like this, but if I don't actually see the sheep breeding, I spend the entire winter worrying that they DIDN'T breed, all the way up until the lambs start arriving.

I love raising sheep! It makes the winter go by so much more quickly, knowing that you have lambs to look forward to in just a few short months. It's like having Christmas in April, getting to see all the new arrivals, trying to guess ahead of time how many each ewe will have, what colors and genders they'll be, and what day they'll arrive.

Then comes the fun of naming them all. I follow certain naming practices with my flock, which means that this coming spring all my lambs will be given names that start with the letter "U." That will be a little harder than the "P," "R," "S," and "T" years I've had so far.

So that's your homework: From now until April, start thinking up good "U" names to help me name my lambs!

Senter's New House (Part 2)

Yesterday, Ken and I spent the afternoon doing more work on Senter's new shelter. You can see from the photo how badly in need of a paint job our poor old barn is.

When we bought the farm, the spot where Senter's paddock is was just an impenetrable mass of thorns, vines, small shrubby trees, and tumbled chunks of rock and broken concrete. So even though we haven't gotten a chance to paint anything yet, the fact that now it's a nicely fenced series of paddocks with stone dust footing in Senter's paddock, is a vast improvement!

I'm proud of myself and Ken for tackling this building job ourselves. Neither of us have any real experience building things, but we did a bunch of research and came up with a design that I hope will work adequately, and will be much cheaper than any other option we've seen.

The materials only cost us about $250. The shelter is about 12' x 12' with a roof that slopes down from 12' to 9' to shed the rain. Or at least, that's how much the roof WILL slope, once we've got it on. Right now, we just have the framework up, with no roof yet.

We've made it so that if this design works out well for us, we can add to it and make a larger shelter that will shelter more horses later, if necessary. Eventually, instead of the window in the back of the barn wall, we want to put a door, which would provide easy access to the feed room on the other side.

Little by little, we try to keep making improvements.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Desperate Again

I was wrong. We don't have enough money to buy a new computer. In fact, we don't even have enough to buy hay. Our hay guy has been letting us get some on credit, but he's reached the limit of what he's willing to extend us. Not that I blame him---he's been very patient with us so far, paying as much as we can, even when it's not enough.

So yesterday, today, and tomorrow, we've been rationing hay. I let the broodmares back out into the pasture, such as it is, so that I could save what hay we had left for the young horses and the sheep, and Senter, who are in pens where they can't graze, even on the sparse November grass.

Fortunately, Ken had just bought a load of grain, so everyone can get a little extra grain to make up for the smaller hay ration.

Ken's paycheck just came in, and I'm expecting several checks in the mail: payments for the two horses I'm selling on "layaway" and payments for fleeces, sheep's horns, and skulls that I've sold. Ken is due for his annual raise and, perhaps, a Christmas bonus sometime in the next few weeks.

So we'll be able to buy hay again soon... good thing, because all that's left in the barn is the loose leftover scraps, which we'll rake up and fork into the truck tomorrow at feeding time.

The trouble is, even though we can scrape together enough to buy hay again right now, we also need to scrape together enough to pay $1,000 in property tax, plus the electric bill and heating bill and phone bill and mortgages...

When I look at the horses in the field, I know that I made good choices in selecting them. They are really nice quality, and I know they'll all produce gorgeous foals with Senter. But then I look at our bills and our budget and our empty hay barn, and I wish I'd never started this horse enterprise.

I'm so tired of knowing that it's all my fault that poor Ken is under such stress, trying to juggle all our bills. He works so hard, he deserves to be able to enjoy the benefits of his labor without having to flush all his money down my horses mouths. I want so much for the horses somehow to pay him back, but unless the horse market turns around drastically and I can get decent prices again, I don't know how that's ever going to happen.

It didn't seem like I was risking so much. All I needed was modest sales and steady hay prices for the horses to break even this year, and then my investment would start to pay off next year. But now we're just scrambling to sell as many as we can to cut that horrible hay bill down to a manageable level.

So anyway, we have no money for a new computer for me. We did scrape together enough to buy the one piece of software I absolutely require, and installed it on Ken's computer, so I can mostly keep working there when Ken's not using it. So I'll still be able to work on the websites people have hired me to do for them, as well as my own websites which need updating.

Mostly, this whole ordeal of worry and scraping leaves me feeling tired and sad all the time. Ken wavers between optimism and panic, but really the only thing holding me together is sheer stubbornness that these things HAVE to be done, so somehow we'll find a way to do them. But it drains me. I go to bed at 8:00 some nights because I'm just so tired, only to wake up again at 4:00 a.m. to start worrying all over again.

Some friends of ours have invited us over to their Thanksgiving dinner, which is really nice of them, since we can't afford to do one of our own this year. Thinking about going to their house made me realize how infrequently I get off the farm. Ken drives into town frequently, sometimes to do errands, sometimes to go to poker night with his friends. But I never go anywhere. I feel guilty spending the money for gas to drive to town, when we can't pay for hay, so I just stay here on the farm for weeks at a time.

We don't get TV here (although we do have videos we can watch on DVD), and I don't listen to the radio or subscribe to a newspaper or any magazines. So, other than the internet, I'm completely isolated. The animals are my life. And I'm not even able to do right by them.

I'm too tired even to write this post properly, so I'm sure it sounds very rambling and whiny. For that I apologize. Sometimes when I write here I try to make things sound happy and interesting, even when that's not how I feel. But this time I'm too sad to even do that.

Things will get better. Or they won't. Either way, there's no choice but to keep plugging along, doing our best.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Technical Difficulties

As if our finances weren't tight enough already... my computer just died this morning. It's been having problems for a while now, and Ken has been valiantly attempting to diagnose what's wrong and keep it alive.

But this morning the chronic problem became acute, and now the darn thing won't even boot up anymore. So, as much as we can't afford any extra expenses right now, I'm going to have to buy a new computer.

I haven't computer shopped in several years, so I was scared I was going to find that a computer of the type I need would be $1,000 or more, but Ken looked around and found some for less than half that. Since I just sold a sheep and I've been getting a lot of fleece and fiber customers lately, it looks like I can just barely manage to pay for that, if we go without some of the other things we were urgently needing to do with that money.

It has to be done. I can't run my business without a computer. And although it's a huge, poorly-timed hassle, it WILL be nice to have a fresh new computer. Ken is even pretty sure that we can rescue all my files out of the memory of the old computer, so with luck none of my recent, not-yet-backed-up files will be lost.

But in the meantime, it may take me a little longer than usual to answer emails and do other computer related tasks, since I have to wait and use Ken's computer when he's not busy with it. And there'll be no more pretty photos on the blog for a little while, because all my photos---as well as the software to upload photos from my camera---are on the dead computer.

Be patient with me... I'll be back up and running as soon as possible.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tenor Gets a Job

Yesterday I sold Tenor, my very last "for sale" sheep (and could have sold another as well, if I'd had one I was willing to part with). The buyers called me out of the blue, needing a ram for their flock after their planned ram purchase fell through.

It was great to meet them, a very nice couple who have both horses and Icelandic sheep, just like us. And they only live over in Lexington, just 60 miles away.

As an added bonus, they know someone who is looking for a horse, and they thought that our 2-year-old filly Andromeda might be a good match for this person. It would be great to make another horse sale, in addition to selling the last sheep. And it would be great for Andromeda to go to a good home where she could belong to one special person and get all the attention she deserves.

So, Tenor is really coming up in the world now. He escaped going to the butcher because Ken and I thought he was too nice to eat. But we had plenty of rams for our flock, so we weren't going to use him for breeding. Essentially, he was just going to be Titan's companion all winter. But now he's gone to be herd sire for a 28 ewe flock. That's more than all the rams in our flock combined!

Congratulations, Tenor, on your big promotion!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Return of the Ladybugs

Imagine you're standing outside during the winter's first gentle snowstorm. Snowflakes, widely spaced but falling steadily, drift slowly down all around you. In passing, some cling to your hair and clothes.

Now, imagine the same image, except that the snowflakes are drifting sideways instead of down. And instead of being snowflakes, they are ladybugs. That's what happened in our yard today.

The ladybugs are back.

These aren't the ladybugs I grew up with back home in Maine, where to sight one of the shiny ruby colored bugs was considered lucky. These, I've been told, are some imported variety that has taken over in this environment. They are a dull rusty orange color, and they come in SWARMS.

They crawl into any crack or crevice they can find, to hibernate in the walls of older buildings for the winter. But they don't stay asleep. They find their way through the walls by the hundreds and swarm all over any sunny window in the house. You can vacuum them off the window, and five minutes later, just as many more have crawled out of the wall to replace them.

They fly erratic loops around the rooms and get stuck in your hair---and if you're very unlucky, your food. They crash into the bulb of the halogen floor lamp and burn. They crawl everywhere, including between the sheets of your bed. They crunch underfoot like popcorn. And they STINK!

As you can tell, I've come to really dislike these creatures. It seems that all old houses in this part of Virginia have them. We had them at the previous house we were renting too. But, unless I'm willing to spray my house full of pesticides, there doesn't seem to be any way to get rid of them.

I've endured the ladybug problem ever since we moved to Virginia eight years ago. But this is the first time I've actually seen them arrive. It was kind of creepy. I'd never really thought about it. I guess I'd always just sort of assumed that the bugs were around in the environment all summer long, and just came into the house for the winter.

But today, when we were outside in the yard, the ladybugs were clearly swarming here from elsewhere. You could see them from a distance, flying in that gentle erratic motion, like snowflakes, but the sky was full of them. Dozens of them kept getting caught in our hair, clinging to our clothes, trying to crawl in our ears and eyes and nose. YUCK!

Thousands of them were clinging to the walls of our barn, crawling up under the clapboards. Which is fine with me. Every one of them that decides to hibernate in the walls of the barn is one that isn't hibernating in the walls of the house.

So for all of you who order packages of ladybugs from gardening catalogs so they'll eat the aphids off your rose bushes: STOP! Don't pay good money for more ladybugs that are all going to leave your garden to fly to my house for the Great Ladybug Convention. Just come get the old already-trained ladybugs that you bought last year. They're all here... all you have to do is come pick them up!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sheep Tents

For the past couple of days, Ken and I have been making new sheep tents in the breeding paddocks.

Because our winters are relatively mild, mostly all the sheep need is a place to stay out of the rain or sleet. In the past, we've usually just stretched a tarp between some T-posts to make a roof. We haven't tried to build permanent sheep sheds, because we don't always want them in the same places, so we try to keep these as cheap and portable as possible.

It's worked out okay, except that up on the hill here where we live, we get a lot of wind, so usually by the end of the winter, the tarps have flapped themselves to shreds and we have to buy new ones. Sometimes they've flapped themselves to shreds during a storm, and we've been out there freezing our fingers off in an ice storm, trying to refasten the tarps that are trying to blow away in the wind. Not fun! We'd like to avoid that if at all possible.

So this year, we decided to add a little extra structure to the sheep tents, by putting "beams" along the edges of the tarps to hold them steady and prevent them from flapping in every wind.
For the beams, I came up with the idea of using these 2x2s we had lying around, and Ken made this awesome little sheep tent yesterday. Notice on the right-hand corner, there's a piece of plywood fastened between two trees:

That piece of plywood is laced to the trees with baling twine, to give us a place to mount the sheep's mineral feeder where it (hopefully) won't get rained on. This whole setup is Ken's invention. The mineral feeder is fastened to a 2x4 which rests in two metal brackets. If I need to take the mineral feeder out to clean it, all I have to do is lift it up off its brackets. It works great, except last year we had a ram who kept butting the feeder out of its brackets. He's in the freezer now, so he won't be doing that anymore!

Here's Pandora, testing out the mineral feeder in its new, convenient location:

The second sheep tent, which we built today, gave us some problems because the place where we wanted to put it had a lot of rocky ledge underneath it that made it impossible for Ken to drive all the T-posts where he wanted them, although he did wear himself out trying.

In the end we had to compromise on the design of the second tent. We didn't have any more 2x2s, but I found some long metal support pieces from a collection of industrial-type shelves that was left in our shed when we moved here. Ken bolted some of them together to make them long enough, and fastened them between the posts. In the one place where he couldn't drive a post into the rock, we ended up tying that corner to a tree to stabilize it.

The comical-looking thing about sheep tents is that, unlike normal buildings, you don't WANT them to be level. You want one side to be lower than the other side, and one corner of the low side to be even lower. That ensures better drainage of rain off the tarp roof, and helps reduce water pooling on the roof as the tarp sags.

It doesn't completely eliminate water pools though. Sometimes after a big rainstorm, I'll have to go out and push on the underside of the tarp to drain the swimming pool off the roof!

We have one more sheep tent to build in the last breeding pen tomorrow. The tent in that pen sort of survived the winter because it's in a more sheltered location, so it will only need some reinforcing and readjusting.

After that, it'll be time to get back to work on our stallion Senter's shelter again.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Love is in the Air

Although I don't think any actual breeding has taken place yet, sheep breeding season seems to be progressing.

Nicholai has been making his "sex face."
(actually, he's just testing the ewe's scent to see if she's in heat)

Taj is starting to get the idea, too

In case you were wondering, Taj and Paisley demonstrate what sheep do on a date:

A little small talk

A little smooching

And then they go eat poison ivy vines together!

Got Sheep?

Please won't you feed me?

Yo! Bring me some food!

Who could resist a face like this?

Just a handsome boy

And another handsome boy

Fleece on the Hoof

We are late doing our shearing this year. No matter how good our intentions, we seem to be completely unable to send our clipper blades in for resharpening in time, even though we have months between spring and fall shearing.

We usually shear in mid to late October. But we just got around to sending our clipper blades out two days ago. Poor sheep---they're going to be naked in November, when it's already quite chilly at night.

When I sell my fleeces, I like to not only take a photo of the fleece itself, but also a photo of the sheep wearing the fleece, so the buyers can see where each one came from. Since I can't do my shearing yet until my blades come back, I figured I could at least take a bunch of photos of Fleece on the Hoof.

I'll probably use a lot of the photos eventually to update my sheep website , too.






















No, this isn't my whole flock. But it's everybody whose fleeces qualify as "premium" fleeces this fall. During the summer heat wave, the others suffered a wool break which ruined their fleeces until next time.