Sunday, November 30, 2008

Needle-Felted Sheep

In an attempt to find new ways to make fun, salable items out of small amounts of scrap wool that I would normally just throw away, I've recently taken up a new craft: Needle-felting.

To do needle felting, you just get a lump of wool and poke it repeatedly with this barbed needle, and the wool magically felts.

It's really cool---you can do amazingly precise flat things like this:

But you can also do 3-D sculptural things like this:

http://www.woolpets.com/galleries.html

Here's my first attempt at needle felting: a little Icelandic ewe. She is 100% raw, unwashed Icelandic wool throughout, except for her 2 beads for eyes and her bell on a ribbon. Her body, head, neck, and legs are felted hard, and then soft loose wool is applied like hair over that to give her a fluffy fleece. Because I used unwashed wool, she even smells like a sheep!


Monday, October 20, 2008

A Visit to See Senter

Yesterday we delivered a sheep down to North Carlina, and made time to stop by my horse trainer's farm on the way back to visit my stallion Senter Stage and my filly Torchsong who are in training there.

Torchsong was out in the huge pasture with the other horses, but she still came right over and followed us around the whole time we were out there. She does love her people!

I also got to see Maggie and Libby, a mare and a filly that I traded to the trainer in exchange for some of her training services. Libby was as sociable and friendly as ever, poking her nose into everything we were doing. And Maggie---always the excellent mom---was proud to show off her colt from this spring, Phoenix.


Both Libby and Phoenix are offspring of my stallion Senter, who is also there for training. I had not been down there to see Senter's progress in person since May, when he was first starting to be ridden. So it was great to see how much more relaxed and balanced he looked under saddle. He's doing really well, I think. He's very happy there, and he really loves to work!

Getting a "Jump" on Breeding Season

Sheep breeding season starts here at the end of October. I've already planned out all of my breeding groups of which rams are going to go with which ewes (click here if you want to see).

The rams have been getting "in the mood" for weeks now as their testosterone levels rise, jostling and shoving each other out in their pasture, and staring lustily through the fence whenever a ewe walks by. But most of the ewes are still happily ignoring their masculine antics, and will not be interested until November.

However, a few days ago I did notice that one of my new ewes, Rowena, was standing over by the ram pen, flirting with a crowd of delighted rams, who were making flirtatious little nickering sounds and licking her face through the mesh fence.


Early lambs usually grow and thrive better than late-born lambs, so I don't mind if a ewe is bred early---as long as I know exactly when she is bred. I try to be present for all my lamb births, and usually sleep in the barn during the main part of lambing season. I DON'T want to end up sleeping in the unheated barn all through the chilly month of March just on the off chance that some ewe MIGHT be lambing sometime.

But if I know exactly when a ewe is bred, I can predict much more closely when she is likely to lamb, and can just make a note in my calendar to check her frequently on those few particular days.

So, I decided to let Rowena breed early. With some difficulty, Ken and I extracted the right ram (Tut) from the group of eager suitors, and put the two lovers in together, where they proceeded to do the deed several times in quick succession.


Our new boss ram, Midas, was deeply offended that he was not the chosen one, and vented his frustration by repeatedly banging his head on the gatepost. An 8-inch thick wooden post, driven at least 2 feet into the ground, and it still shook when the 200-lb. ram hit it!

I shooed Midas away, letting him know that such tantrums were impolite and unwelcome, and that he would get his chance later.

After Tut and Rowena had exhausted themselves, we separated them and let them go back to their former pastures.

If the breeding took, we can expect our first lambs to be born around March 4-6. That's a whole month earlier than last year!

Flying Blind

A few days ago, I heard a commotion in the kitchen, and went to investigate. As expected, one of our cats had caught something and brought it in through the cat door to play with it in the house. There was a wild bird trembling on the windowsill, and one of my cats poised to jump up after it.

I shooed the cat away and reached gently for the bird. To my surprise, it did not even duck away as my hand approached. I picked the poor thing up and examined it more closely.

Although it didn't appear badly injured, its beak was clogged with mud and blood. Its left eye was covered in a droplet of blood, and its right eye was plastered shut with a mat of mud and feathers. Presumably, when the cat had pounced on it, the bird's face had been driven into the mud, leaving it completely blinded and helpless.

I scraped the mud off the beak so the bird could breath properly again. Then I tried to wipe the eyes clean with a damp paper towel, with not very much luck. I tried gently rinsing the eyes with water. Still no avail.

At this point, I was starting to wonder whether the eyes were glued shut because the eyeballs beneath the muck had been punctured. Not a pretty thought to imagine!

But I figured that a blind bird was doomed for sure, so I couldn't make matters worse by at least attempting to help. I finally got the blood cleaned out of the left eye, and was happy to see that the only injury there was a tiny rip in the lower eyelid. Nothing serious.

So then I started working on the right eye. It was absolutely glued shut and plastered over with something that I hoped wasn't goo from a pierced eyeball. One tiny piece at a time, I picked off the bits of feather/mud/hay that had formed a solid layer over the bird's eye, hoping I was not going to be looking into an empty, oozing socket when I was done.

Luckily, the bird stayed still, and I got all the gross stuff off its face. And there, underneath, was an uninjured eye!

Nothing else seemed to be wrong with the bird, except for a mild case of shock. So I put it outside (in a place where the cats could not possibly get to it) to recover in private. When I went back a little while later, it was gone, so I guess it recovered and flew away!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mystery Lameness---Solved!

Not too long ago, I learned a painful-but-funny lesson about the importance of observing ALL the clues and symptoms and not jumping to conclusions when a sheep is sick.

Soon after the 9 new ewes arrived from Monica's farm, one of them developed a severe sudden-onset lameness in one front leg. There was no obvious sign of injury, only a small amount of swelling just above the hoof. The sheep limped badly for a few days and then the symptoms gradually abated.

A few days later, another sheep had the same symptoms, then another and another. Over the space of a couple of weeks, 5 of the new sheep showed this sudden lameness.

What could it be? We've had trouble with black widow spiders here before, but I couldn't imagine an army of black widows out in the pasture only attacking our new sheep.

Selenium deficiency can lead to lameness, but the symptoms don't look like what I was seeing, and besides I know Monica has done a great job of keeping her flock's selenium levels up, so the new sheep wouldn't be on the brink of deficiency so quickly no matter what.

Why was this affecting the new sheep and not my existing flock? I tried to think of some change in food or environment, some toxic weed in the pasture, that could cause the symptoms I was seeing.

Soon after, one of my previous sheep (Phoebe) showed the symptoms too. I was getting really worried. It was an epidemic, and I couldn't figure out what was causing it!


Then, a few days later, I was out picking up fallen pears under the pear tree and throwing them over the fence so the sheep on the other side could eat them---something I do about every other day this time of year.

As I was doing this, I reached for a pear and got stung on the finger by a yellowjacket. Not surprisingly, sudden severe pain and swelling ensued.

It was then that I finally realized that the exact same thing had been happening to my sheep!

All the sheep I got from Monica loved to eat pears, while my other sheep were indifferent to them---all except for Phoebe, the ONE sheep of mine that also got lame, who would stand and eat pears all day long if you let her.

So, to my (somewhat painful) relief, it wasn't an epidemic after all, not a mysterious sickness... just a particular group of sheep who like pears enough that they are willing to risk getting stung to eat them!

Here you can see a slightly comical video clip of Phoebe eating a pear. Because sheep don't have any top teeth in the front of their mouth, they have a hard time just biting off pieces of pear to eat the way we do. Phoebe solves that by shoving the entire pear into her mouth so she can chomp on it with her molars.

You can tell by her expression that she is thoroughly enjoying the challenge!

The Ram Who Would Be King

Ever since we've had our sheep flock, our senior ram Nicholai has been the benevolent King of the Flock.
He briefly trounces any newcomers to let them know who's boss, and then afterwards he diligently works as a peacekeeper to break up any other fighting that happens in the ram flock. So up until now, all the rams have been pretty good buddies.

But this year, we acquired a new ram, Midas. I had been planning for the past year to buy him, because he is the father of all the best fleece sheep in my flock, and all of his offspring that I own have excellent heat and parasite resistance. I wanted to bring in more of those qualities into my flock.

Luckily for me, his owner, Bonny at Donnybrook Farm had kept enough of his daughters in her flock that she was willing to trade Midas for one of my best ram lambs from this spring. So, Midas came to live here.

He's a large, 6-year old ram with absolutely splendid fleece quality. His tog (outer wool) is extremely soft for a senior ram, and his thel (inner wool) is so fine and dense, it feels like he's coated with a springy layer of foam rubber. No wonder all his lambs get such gorgeous fleeces!

Icelandic sheep are seasonal breeders, who will only breed in the late fall and winter. During breeding season, rams produce lots of hormones that give them a distinctive, masculine smell that helps attract ewes.

As soon as we loaded Midas in the car to bring him home, I could tell by his "ram-y" smell that he was already hormonally charged for rutting season, even though it was still 2 months early. He spent his time in his quarantine pen butting the fence and the bushes in his pen.

Then, when it was time to release him from quarantine and put him in with the other rams, he decided it was time to prove that he was the new king of the flock.

We expected Midas and Nicholai to tussle a bit when they first met, but we expected Nicholai to put an end to the fight quickly so they could all be friends afterward. Unfortunately for Nicholai, Midas is a little bigger, a year older, and way more hyped up on testosterone at the time, so even though Nicholai went into the encounter with confidence, by the time the dust cleared he was limping and Midas was the new king.

Poor Nicholai is a bit dejected at being dethroned, but he's taking it like a gentleman. His limp has healed itself, and we reassure him frequently that he's still king of our hearts!

Here's a short video clip of part of the battle. Hear that CRACK! as their heads come together?

That force of impact is why---no matter how gentle you think your rams are---you must always be careful when walking among them, especially during breeding season when they're full of hormones and not thinking rationally.

A 200-lb. animal striking a human with that kind of force could easily put you in the hospital or even kill you. So be cautious!

Farm Lambs

In addition to buying the 9 new ewes from Monica, I also kept 10 of my own farm ewe lambs, and 3 ram lambs from this spring.

You may remember seeing photos of them from when they were first born here back in April. Here's what they look like now!

The girls:

Unity: Nice stout girl, and who can resist the pretty moorit mouflon color?


Ulrica. Very tame and friendly, and an excellent broad build, very wide in the chest.

Utopia: A large, well-built lamb. Her sister had twins as a one-winter ewe, and the twins grew more than a pound per day. That's excellent for a yearling mother! So I expect Utopia will be a very milky mom as well.


Ulyssia: She's a full sister to my ram Titan. Both her parents have excellent parasite and heat resistance, so I have high hopes for her.


Urbana: Very nice build, superb fleece, and an extremely tame and friendly personality.


Ultra: She had pneumonia as a lamb, so she's a little smaller than other lambs her age. But WOW, what a smart, friendly, extremely interactive personality! This one is definitely showing her Leadersheep bloodlines.


Udela: Just plain cute.


Undra: A stout little butterball with a pretty moorit fleece.


Ulanova: Another cutie in that most popular of fleece colors, moorit.


Urelia: Quiet personality so I don't tend to notice her much, but she's grown pretty big this fall.


The boys:

Umber: The biggest of this year's lambs, he is now almost as big as the yearling rams. He showed extremely good heat and parasite resistance this summer (which is probably why he managed to grow faster than the other lambs). He'll have a chance to produce lambs of his own this breeding season.


Ukraine: I'm not using him to breed this year, but because of his bloodlines (my best parasite resistant ram crossed with my best meat-conformation ewe), he was too valuable to send to slaughter. I'm keeping him for another year to see how he grows up.


Urban: I have so many rams this year, I really didn't need another one, but this boy (twin to Urbana, shown above), was just too nice to send to the butcher with the other "extra" ram lambs this fall. I'm keeping him through the winter. He will stay on my sales list, and if no one buys him before next fall, I'll decide then whether to use him myself or send him off to the butcher then.

New Sheep!

While I've been steadily dispersing my horse herd for the past year, I've been increasing my sheep flock.

When I heard that my friend Monica a Small Meadow farm had decided to disperse her Icelandic sheep flock, I jumped at the chance to buy her top 9 ewes. That's a big investment for a farm where finances are as tight as ours have been, but luckily for me, Monica is a friend and is willing to take payments.

That gave her the ability to be finished with her flock dispersal quickly, and gave me the chance to get some really great sheep that have already been proven to be heat and parasite resistant on Monica's farm in Georgia.

I'm EXTREMELY happy with the quality of the sheep I got. There are some real beauties here and I think they are going to produce some fabulous lambs for us in the spring!

Introducing...

Stella. Doesn't she have the most beautiful face ever? She's a large, well-built ewe with a superb horn set. Her mother carries the Thoka gene for extra-prolificacy in lambing, so we're hoping that Stella carries it too.


Tara. She's Stella's half sister, so she also has a good chance of carrying the Thoka gene. Tara is extremely tame and friendly, and has followed me up onto the back porch and right into the kitchen on more than one occasion!


Sapphire. Just and big and beautiful as Stella, but in black!


Tsarina:

Titania:


Tessa. She had a very late (July!) lamb this year, which in the Georgia heat stressed her system enough to give her wool break, so her wool doesn't look that great right now. But underneath, her wool and her build are both really nice, so as soon as she's sheared, she's going to be looking mighty fine.


Rowena. Half sister to my best fleece ewe Rhonwen. Her fleece is not quite as soft as Rhonwen's but she has a much better meat build. Excellent ewe!



Secret: Although I've been trying to sell off all my polled sheep so that I can concentrate just on the horned variety, I made and exception and agreed to buy Secret because (1) she had exceptional heat and parasite resistance, (2) she's from a bloodline that I particularly like, and (3) according to Monica, when Secret is bred to a horned ram, she produces fully horned lambs, not ones with the stubby, ugly scurs that often happen when you cross the horned and polled bloodlines. That's good enough for me!


Uleda. Rowena's lamb from this year. Tons of fleece and a real cutie!


A big welcome to all the new sheep!

The Great Un-Trade

Remember back in February when I was so heartbroken because I was trading my two favorite pregnant mares, Char and Scylla, to a farm in northern Wisconsin in exchange for some sheep? Well, the mares and their colts (by my stallion, Senter Stage) have now been relocated to my sister's farm in Maine.

After a few months, Char and Scylla's new owner decided that owning a pair of large draft mares was not for him after all. I had put a right of first refusal into my sales contract for them, so when he decided he didn't want them any more, I had to scramble around to figure out what to do. We re-negotiated another trade: some sheep and money going back to Wisconsin, and the two mares and their colts going to Donna's farm in Maine.

The mares Donna will keep for me, and use them and breed them however she likes. One of the colts will stay with Donna as a stud at least for a few years. The other colt will be for sale. It took a lot of planning, negotiating, and luck to get the whole deal to work out in the necessary time frame, but finally it's done, my girls and their colts are safe and happy, and I can breathe at least a little sigh of relief.

Here's what the mares and their colts look like now.

Charybdis ("Char"), Senter Fielder ("Willie"), and Storm Senter ("Storm"):


Scylla and Willie:


Willie:


Storm:

Friday, October 17, 2008

Horse Update

So, a lot has happened with the horses over the summer. Here's a summary:

Penny:

After trying to sell my filly Penny, and getting almost no inquiries on her for a year, all of a sudden, four different buyers wanted her all at the same time. It got a little confusing for a while, but finally I decided to sell her to a very nice woman from British Columbia. So Penny's first trailer ride was a LOOOOONNNGG one!

Libby:


Libby went to live with her new owner, my trainer. I traded Libby in exchange for future training on my two Art Deco fillies. I really wanted Libby to go to someone who would truly appreciate her quality, and I know the trainer will do that, as she already owns Libby's full brother from this year.

Torchsong:

At the same time that Libby left here, the trainer also took Torchsong to start her training. I put up some "for sale" ads for her, and after a dry spell in serious horse inquiries through most of September, suddenly I have a flurry of potential buyers interested in Torchsong. I've lowered her price to only $3,500 in hopes of selling her soon.

After all those horses leaving the farm, we only have the two Art Deco fillies left here. I thought that was going to be enough of a herd reduction. But unfortunately, finances are still way too tight, and we're just tired of the constant worrying, so we reluctantly decided that we're going to sell the last two fillies as well, and get out of breeding horses altogether. I spent a couple of days giving the girls baths and taking new photos, but I haven't had a chance to put "for sale" ads up yet. That'll be next on the agenda. Meanwhile, here's a peek at what the girls look like now:

Glory: (click here to see more photos and video)

Grace: (click here to see more photos and video)


Their attitudes have improved a lot over the summer. Now, although they are still spirited, they are also very friendly towards me. They are easy to catch now, and not nearly so spooky about things. So, even though I haven't had as much time as I would have liked to work with them regularly, they still have made a ton of progress.

They will be going to the trainer's soon as well, to get the training that we agreed on, and then they'll be sold. So soon I'll have no horses here on the farm at all. It will be weird, but it will make everything---finances, chores, farm upkeep, etc.---much easier when we can just concentrate all our efforts on the sheep side of the business.

Did You Miss Me?

Hi everybody! Is anyone out there still reading this? I can't believe it's been more than 2 months since I last posted. I imagine most of my faithful readers have give up on me by now!

But, despite it being a busy, busy summer, I'm still here, the farm's still here. Our finances still aren't much improved, but we're still struggling along, so I have hopes we'll get to a less anxiety-producing state eventually. If we can just hang in there for another year or two, I have hopes that thing will get better.

Anyway, I've been saving up lots of news and happenings to post about, but rather than trying to write one big long post with everything crammed in, I think I'll try to break them up into a bunch of smaller posts, divided by topic.

See you in the next post!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

One Year

I just realized: This blog is one year old now!

Looking back, I can't believe all the stuff that has happened in just one short year. It was a very difficult time, perhaps the hardest year of my life so far, but we hung in there, and I learned so much. So now it's time to look back on some of my accomplishments:

  • I learned how to write a blog. And though my readership numbers are not huge, the blog has had visitors from at least 49 states and 65 countries, on every continent except Antartica!
  • I sold 11 horses, more than 30 sheep, dozens of fleeces, plus a few sheep pelts, skulls, and horns.
  • I learned how to sell on Ebay, and made several thousand dollars selling some of my valuables to help us buy hay for the animals.
  • I learned how to negotiate trades (sheep for horses, horses for sheep, horses for services, sheep for services) and how to negotiate sales (deposits, payment plans, shipping arrangements, what extras are or are not included in the sale price). I even negotiated an excellent situation with free board and professional training for my stallion, in exchange for free breedings to him.
  • I gained a lot more experience working with young horses of widely varying personality types.
  • I helped and/or watched the delivery of dozens of lambs.
  • I learned a lot of new things about veterinary care of livestock and pets (wounds, sicknesses, birthing challenges, broken legs, poisonous snake bites, maggots, parasite control).
  • I got my first 3 paying jobs designing websites for people.
  • I got a year older (could be worse), got through another year of marriage (still going strong), got a year closer to having our credit cards paid off (whoo-hoo!), and got another year closer to having our sheep flock reach its "certified Scrapie free" status (not a huge deal, but nice).
  • I made a lot of tough decisions, faced worry, heartbreak, fear, indecision, disappointment, and anger... and still retained some semblance of sanity and humor (most days!).

So, what's ahead for the year to come?

  • I want to keep learning and improving the farm, of course.
  • I want to keep working on getting our finances back under control after the financial disaster that the horse situation has caused.
  • All the stress of the past year or two led me to eat for emotional reasons, and I gained a lot of weight, which has made me feel unhealthy and tired. I want to get slim and fit again. I have a plan to lose 1 lb. per week for the next year. I started in late June, and have lost 7 lbs so far without "dieting" or exercising more---just by making more conscious food choices. I don't expect that all the coming weeks of weight loss will be as easy as these past few, but that's okay, I'm tired of being tired and heavy. I'm ready to be "the real me" again.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Crossroads, Chapter 2

Back in November, you may recall that I posted an entry about National Novel Writing Month. I had intended to participate, and even posted the first draft of Chapter 1 of my novel, Crossroads. But too many things came up that month, and I ended up not having the time to continue.

Since then, several of my readers have asked whether I ever wrote any more of the novel, and whether I would post some more of it here.

Things have been busy, so I have had almost no time for writing, but I do have a little bit more done. It may be months between excerpts, but if you readers continue to nag me every now and then, I'll try to keep posting them from time to time.

If you want to read from the beginning, Chapter 1 is posted here.

Below is the first draft of Chapter 2.

CHAPTER TWO

The next thing I remember, I was waking up in a hospital room. Even before I opened my eyes, I knew I wasn’t in my own bed. The room smelled of disinfectant and, in some peculiar way, sunshine. Distantly, I heard the sound of an intercom paging doctor somebody and the whisper of footsteps passing in the hall. A faint, almost-inaudible electronic hum hissed from the room’s fluorescent lights. Near the head of my bed, some kind of medical device beeped regularly.

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was a cheerful ceramic pot of yellow chrysanthemums blooming on a small table by the window. I smiled faintly. Flowers. That explained the summery smell. But the bright wash of afternoon sunlight hurt my eyes, so I turned away from the window.

There, her long, lean limbs folded to fit into the confines of a hideous rose-colored paisley armchair, a young black woman sat flipping through the pages of Vogue. Her hair was tightly braided in a crown across the top of her head. Her high, smooth cheekbones and angular jaw made her look as if she had just stepped out of a magazine cover or emerged from an engraving on an ancient coin.

My smile widened. “Eb!” My throat felt strange, and my voice came out as a cracked whisper.

She dropped the magazine and rushed to my side. “Keri? Oh my god, you’re awake!”

I licked my lips and tried again to speak. “You look like an African princess with your hair like that. Trust you to be perfectly coiffed even at my deathbed.”

To my surprise, her eyes welled up with tears. “Don’t say that. You’re going to be fine. The doctors all say—”

Clumsily, I petted her hand. “Joking, Eb. I was joking. What the hell happened? I have a headache the size of Alaska.”

Before she could answer, a broad-shouldered man appeared in the doorway behind her. “Hey babe. It’s three o’clock. Ready to go?”

She didn’t even turn. “Devon, get the doctor. She’s awake!” Obediently, his broad shoulders disappeared into the hall.

“A new man in your life?” I raised an eyebrow. “Do tell.”

She dragged the ugly pink chair closer so she could sit next to the bed. “What, Devon? No, he’s not new. We’ve been going out for—” She stopped suddenly, covering her pause by fumbling with a pitcher that was sitting on the bedside table. “Are you thirsty? I can get you some water.” Pouring too quickly, she spilled a little on the table, then thumped the pitcher back into place and stretched the brimming glass in my direction.

I tried to sit up, but a sudden blaze of pain roared through my limbs and I sank back again, gasping. “Ebony Clara Matthews, what is going on? I know I’m in the hospital, but how did I get here? What happened to me?”

She let the proffered glass sink slowly to her lap, where she gazed into it as if it contained the answers to my questions. “I was about to say that Devon and I have been going out for a month and a half. I met him at that party I went to the night you had your accident. Keri, you’ve been in a coma for six weeks.”

A posse of doctors and nurses charged into the room, and for the next few minutes I was surrounded by strangers poking, prodding, shining lights in my eyes, and asking me things like who was president and could I wiggle my toes. My body was full of mysterious aches that everyone seemed more familiar with than I, judging by how accurately they prodded in just those exact places.

I bore it for as long as I could, but eventually I’d had enough. “Look, I’m fine. I remember my name. I know what year it is. My fingers and toes are all fully functional. Can you give me some privacy to talk with my friend, and do the rest of this later?”

In the six weeks I’d been unconscious, they’d apparently gotten used to me being pliable and inanimate, because now when I resisted, they goggled at me as if they didn’t understand.

“Get out,” I suggested, as helpfully as possible.

It was Devon who came to my rescue. Six foot three and broad as a quarterback in a stylish suit, he tucked his hands beneath the elbows of a couple of the doctors and ushered them out of the room. “Thank you all so much, but this is Miss Cook’s roommate and I’m Miss Cook’s lawyer. We need a few moments to speak with my client, if you don’t mind.”

When they were gone, a blissful quiet settled on the room once more. Devon shut the door, and both he and Ebony came and sat next to my bed, somehow managing to look happy and worried at the same time.

“Lawyer?” I surveyed Devon from the top of his conservative, hundred-dollar haircut to his tasteful designer shoes. His dark eyes were inscrutable and his too-straight teeth impossibly white against his cafĂ©-au-lait skin, but the hint of a dimple that flashed beside his mouth when he smiled suggested there might be a warm personality beneath the power-suit exterior. “I have a lawyer now?”

Ebony leaned forward. “He’s just been helping out while you were… gone. I asked him to. There’s been a lot of paperwork, between the medical forms, the accident reports from the crash, the insurance claims, and now the settlement offer from the railroad.”

“I am sorry.” Devon’s voice was smooth as dark chocolate, his elocution clearly honed by years of practice. A voice trained to wring the heartstrings of juries and judges alike. “If you would prefer to be represented by someone else now that you are… yourself again, I will be glad to turn over all the paperwork.”

“But there’s no need to think about any of that today,” Eb added. “We’re just so happy you’re okay.”

“Wait. Go back a second.” Everything was moving so quickly, and my mind was having a hard time keeping up. “What crash? What settlement? What does the railroad have to do with anything? I lost control and skidded into the ditch, that’s all. I was trying to find a phone to call a tow truck. How did I end up here?”

They glanced at each other. Ebony frowned and took my hand. “Honey, your car is totaled. I saw it. There’s nothing left but a twisted wreck of metal. They’re mostly healed now, so maybe you can’t tell, but you had seventeen broken bones and a punctured lung. They say you died three times in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. You had four surgeries before they would even let me in to see you, and when they finally did, I didn’t recognize you. I thought they’d brought me to the wrong room, that it was all some kind of mistake, that’s how badly you were banged up.”

“I don’t understand. What happened to me?”

Ebony drew her hand back and laid it beside the other one in her lap. Fingers slightly curved, palms turned upwards, they looked like two small, helpless animals. When she spoke, she had to force the words out. “You drove your car into an oncoming train. The engineer who was driving the train said you accelerated into him, there was nothing he could do. He said it looked like you did it on purpose.”

The color seemed to drain out of the room. “That’s impossible,” I whispered. “Why would I do something so idiotic?” Neither of them replied and neither of them would look me in the eye. Finally, the answer dawned on my. “Oh my god. You think I tried to kill myself. Why? Ebony, why would you think that?”

“I don’t know. You were so sad lately, so closed off. I just thought—”

“My parents died, Eb. I’m allowed to be sad about it. That doesn’t mean I want to kill myself.”

“I just thought there must have been something else going on,” she said miserably. “You were preoccupied all the time, talking to yourself, staying up until all hours of the night. I thought I was a bad friend not to have seen the signs.”

“You weren’t a bad friend. There were no signs. I was just working on trying to find my birth parents, and I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to get my hopes up until I found a lead.” This time, despite my protesting body, I did sit up in bed. “Oh crap! While I was unconscious, did I get any phone calls or messages from someone named Margery Greenacre?”

Ebony shook her head. “I don’t think so. Why? Is it important?”

“She was the lady I was on my way to see that night. She said she knows who my parents are, but she wouldn’t tell me anything more over the phone. She sounded really urgent that I come see her right away, and I never showed up. She’s going to think I blew her off.”

“Take it easy, I'm sure she'll understand. If you like, I'll call her for you and explain. And when you're feeling better, you can—”

But my mind was already wrestling with the next memory. This one was blurrier, less certain, but I forced it to the surface. As it came clear, a hot splinter of pain darted like a flicker of lightning behind my right eye. “The girl! That night, there was a little girl with long red hair, she saw the whole thing.”

Ebony's brows puckered, and she glanced at Devon, but he just gave a little shrug. Her lips tightened, and when she turned back to me, her eyes brimmed with pity. “There was no one, Keri. No witnesses except for the guy driving the train. Believe me, the police investigated. And then the railroad company investigated. Everyone was hoping for a witness they could question. But it's a pretty rural area, with no houses nearby. It was late at night and pouring rain. There was no one out there.”

Why was she arguing with me about this? “I'm telling you, there was. She was standing in the road, in the rain. I think there was a dog. I almost didn't see her. I swerved, and that's how I ended up in the ditch.”

She stroked my hand, her touch light and cool. “Honey, it's all right. We don't have to talk about this now. We're not judging you, and we're here for you, whatever you need. We only want to help.”

I blinked stupidly at her, uncomprehending. It took several seconds before I understood: She thought I had made up the little girl, either consciously or unconsciously, so I wouldn't have to admit that I had attempted suicide. Every word I said to the contrary would just support her theory that I was deep in denial.

I sighed. If even Ebony, the friend who knew me best in all the world, believed such a thing, I had a feeling my recovery period was going to be a lot more painful and tedious than just rebuilding my atrophied muscles and re-knitting broken bones.

I couldn't imagine what she had gone through, these past six weeks, thinking that I had crashed the car on purpose and wondering if she could somehow have done something to prevent it. All those weeks of guilt and worry---and anger too, I'm sure, wondering how I could do such a thing instead of just coming to her for help. Somehow, I would have to rebuild her trust in me and re-knit the bond we'd shared. Somehow I'd have to convince her I was telling the truth.

It never occurred to me for a second that she might be right.

A Sad Loss

On July 15, the Icelandic sheep community lost a great friend and mentor. Susan Briggs of Tongue River Farm passed away from leukemia, which she had been battling for several years.

Although I only met her once in person, she is the reason I am raising Icelandics sheep today. It was a photograph of her beautiful ram, MacBeth (shown below) that made me decide that Icelandics were the breed for me, and in the years I waited to finally buy my farm, I visited Susan's website frequently to educate myself and to dream of the day I would have a flock of my own.

Three of my first six sheep were from Susan's farm, and I'm proud to say that I still have 3 MacBeth daughters---as well as several grandsons and granddaughters---in my flock.

Thank you, Susan, for helping to make my farming dream come true.

On the Mend

I think my little sick lamb, Ultra, is on the mend. She is still so very thin, I don't know how she has survived this long. But she is slowly regaining her appetite, and she walks around now, taking an interest in what's going on around her, instead of just lying on the ground in misery all the time.

She was well enough that I put her back in with the other lambs for a couple of days, thinking that she might be getting lonely in her special pen. But last night when she saw me she started yelling for me. I opened the gate and she followed me right out, clearly no longer wanting to be with the other lambs.

So I put her back in her own private pen, so that she can have as much food as she wants to eat, with no competition from the other lambs. I think that it is taking a while for her rumen to start functioning again, because she will only eat a little bit at a time.

But she is eating, walking, and expressing her opinions about her situation. So I take that as a good sign.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Latest Batch of Good News

It's been a busy week. This time of year, July and August, are the hardest for the sheep because of the heat and the parasites, so it's always a time of worry for me. Plus our finances are getting very tight again, which is another source of worry.

But I've had several bits of good news lately, which I'm quite happy about:

1. On Sunday, the mare (Callista) that I sent to my trainer was sold. Hurray! So that's one fewer horse I have to worry about and a few thousand dollars coming in to help pay bills. Now I only have 2 more horses left on my sales list, and I have 3 different buyers interested in one of those.

2. Both of the clients I'm designing web sites for have needed work done right away, and both of them had added complications come up suddenly that created more work for me. But I have had more time available lately to actually WORK on the two sites, so I've been making rapid progress, which feels good.

3. My stallion has now made enough progress in his training that he is being ridden by a 14 year old girl. This speaks volumes about what a wonderful temperament he has!

He also just had his wolf teeth pulled, which will make him more comfortable wearing the bridle. And all of his mares have recently tested "in foal" except one, whom he will be rebreeding this week. Between a busy training schedule and a busy breeding schedule, he has had a lot going on in his life this summer, which is great for him. He loves both his jobs!

4. Although this time of year always brings challenges with the sheep's parasite loads and heat stress, in looking back over my worming records I discovered that one of the ram lambs I'm keeping (Umber) has shown extremely good parasite resistance, with near-perfect FAMACHA scores and ZERO worming.

Since he is also our largest lamb of the year and is a cross between my best fleece ewe and my best meat ram, the fact that he is so parasite resistant as well makes him incredibly valuable to my future breeding program. Especially since he is unrelated to Nicholai, who is my other extremely parasite-resistant ram.

Between these two, the new ram I'm getting this summer (who I know to be highly parasite resistant), and the possibility of another new-ram purchase next year that I have already lined up, I should be able to start making some excellent progress on my goal of breeding for parasite resistance without sacrificing meat conformation.

In another few generations, perhaps July and August won't be a time to worry about the sheep at all anymore!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Sigh of Relief

As if I don't have enough worries trying to keep this farm going, recently a few of my sheep started developing abscesses that looked suspiciously like CL (caseous lymphadenitis), which is a contagious, incurable disease.

I quickly isolated the affected sheep, and spent $90 to have one of the abscesses tested. It took a week to get the results, and I worried all the while. If it WAS CL, I would have to cull any sheep that had it, and I'd have to spend a small fortune getting the whole flock tested.

Any sheep that tested positive would have to be culled, and if this year's lambs were affected, I would lose out on all my sales income for the year, because I would never knowingly sell infected sheep to another breeder.

But now the results are back, and we can breathe a sigh of relief: Our vet says the abscesses are NOT CL, just simple, non-infectious, non-contagious sebaceous growths.

What a relief, both for me and for the affected sheep, who are now delighted to be released from their quarantine and back with the rest of the flock.

Sick Lamb

The hard part of raising livestock is that sometimes they become, well, dead stock. You do what you can, of course, to keep them all healthy, but unfortunately, sickness and death is as integral a part of the cycle as mating and birth. The best you can do is try to keep the mortality rate to a minimum.

That's what I'm trying to do right now with a lamb I have that's sick. To make things even more difficult, this is the friendliest lamb I've ever had. Bottle-fed lambs are often extra friendly, but this lamb was never bottle fed. She just decided when she was born that she loves people as much as she loves sheep.

She's been thin but vigorous for quite a while, and while she has been wormed as needed, given booster shots of selenium, and doses of my sheep drench, she just never seemed to have as much of an appetite as the other lambs. She would rather spend her time snuggling with the people and getting petted than eating grain or alfalfa.

I worried about her a little bit because she wasn't as fat as I would like her to be, but as long as she was vigorous, I figured that maybe her thinness was just a factor of her Leadersheep bloodlines (Leadersheep are usually quite narrow in their builds).

But recently, she's started getting lethargic. I wormed her and gave her another Bo-Se shot, but that night it rained and hailed, and the next morning I found that she had gone off and isolated herself in the woods, the way sheep often do when they are ready to die. She had a mild fever, and looked like she was heading into a bout of pneumonia.

I brought her inside and started all the other treatments I could think of. I gave her a vitamin B shot to bolster her energy, a Naxcel shot for the pneumonia, ProBios to help her digestion, and an oral dose of "Baby Lamb Strength" liquid, which has several other vitamins in it, plus fat for calories.

She lay on my living room floor all afternoon, panting in obvious discomfort. I was prepared for her to die. But late in the afternoon, she stood up, peed on the floor, and looked a little more cheerful. When I left to do the evening chores, she BAAAAAed after me, so I took that to mean that she was feeling well enough to be let back out with the other sheep.

So now, she and her mom are in a separate pen, where they can be together without any competition, but can still see all the other sheep so they don't feel isolated. The lamb is still very lethargic and uncomfortable, so she is not out of the woods yet. But so far she's hanging in there, and has enough strength to walk around a little bit.

So, with a little luck and perseverance, maybe she will survive.

Weaning the Lambs

After my fun weekend with my gal-pals was over, it was time to worm and vaccinate all the sheep, and to wean the lambs. With the help of Ken and our improved catch-pen setup, this went relatively smoothly.

With all the supplemental food we've been giving the sheep over the past month, most of them have shot from "a little too thin" right past "good condition" and have headed straight on to "verging on tubby."

So it will be a good thing for the ewes to have their babies weaned, so we can take them off all that extra feed and let them gradually come back to their ideal weights. And the rams, who are doing no work at all this time of year, definitely don't need any more extra feed. They already waddle when they walk!

Normally, I don't wean my lambs. I just let them self-wean when they are ready. The process is pretty much complete by the time I separate the rams from the ewes in early September. But this year, most of my sheep buyers are ready to take their animals in July, a full 2 months earlier than usual, which is great for me---I get the money sooner and have fewer animals to feed for the rest of the summer. So that means, all the babies have to be weaned now.

The whole flock got checked, and we wormed those who needed it. And everybody got their annual CD&T shot. Most shepherds give the pregnant ewes this shot a few weeks before lambing to ensure maximum resistance gets passed to the lambs in the colostrum. But so far I prefer to do all the vaccines---lambs and moms---at the same time.

Up until this year, my flock was small enough that if I vaccinated the lambs and ewes separately, I'd be wasting most of a bottle of vaccine each time. This year, the flock is large enough that this isn't the case, so I may switch to the more conventional vaccine schedule in the future.

The babies will all get their booster vaccine---along with their ear tattoos for the registry and their ear tags for the Scrapie program---in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, they have to get used to being without Mom.

The first night they were apart, both moms and babies cried all night long (I should know, my bedroom window faces the sheep paddocks). Not only were they upset to be separated, but two thunderstorms rolled through that night, a mild one at dusk, and a rip-roaring one at 2:00 a.m. that included lots of VERY bright, scary lightning and about 1/2 hour of hail.

Now that a few days have passed, the lambs and moms are starting to get the hang of the new routine. The lambs can go off and graze in their pasture and the moms can go off and graze in theirs. They can still come together and visit each other through the paddock fence if they want to, but no nursing anymore.

The one possible problem from weaning time was that one of the lambs managed to squeeze through the other paddock gate into Glory's paddock, where we only noticed when Glory started running around trying to trample him. We rushed over there and got him out, but apparently Glory had managed to knock him in the head with one of her hooves, as he was bleeding around one of his horns.

The horn didn't seem to be knocked loose, and the blood quickly dried. The lamb is subdued today, so I'm keeping my eye on him, but here's hoping all he has is a (very understandable) headache.

Naughty Glory!

And speaking of naughty horses, over in the other paddock, Grace decided she was going to disassemble part of the barn. Her run-in shed is actually a bay in the barn with a wide opening and a small section of wall blocking part of the opening.

One of our previous horses already kicked that small section of wall and jarred it loose, and Ken had not yet figured out a sturdy enough way to repair it. Only recently he had said that since it was not a supporting wall, maybe it would be easier just to tear that section out rather than trying to repair it in a way that would be horse proof.

So Grace took him at his word. I heard a terrible creaking/scraping sound out there, and when I went to investigate, there was Grace deliberately rubbing and pushing against that little section of wall until the post was off its support and all the boards were starting to come loose.

Fortunately, she didn't hurt herself, and it only took Ken a few minutes to finish the disassembling that she had started. Now the whole front of the bay is open. Let's hope Grace doesn't find something else more important to break now!

How to Make Cherry Cordial (Part 3)

So, this weekend when my friends were here, we tasted the Cherry Cordial I made recently. Since I posted the recipe here on the blog, I thought I'd post the results here too, since my recipes are always a work in progress, and subject to revision.

Having sampled the results, my opinion is that the cordial was delicious, but definitely NOT cherry flavored. The couple of cinnamon sticks FAR outweighed the fresh cherries, so this turned out to be a sweet, luscious cinnamon cordial with a mild cherry background to keep the cinnamon flavor from getting too prominent and bitter.

Would I make this recipe again? Yes, definitely. But I might not bother to use my precious hand-picked, straight-off-the-tree cherries to do it. Since you can't taste them much anyway, frozen cherries would have been easier.

With this, my third attempt at making a cherry cordial, and my third failure to get anything that truly captured the wonderful flavor of fresh cherries, I'm going to have to conclude that cherries, like strawberries, just don't translate into cordial making in a way that maintains their full flavor. Like strawberries, the cherries seem to get weaker, milder, and a tad insipid... tasting a bit like fruit punch.

But, as this cinnamon cordial demonstrates, they can still be lovely bases to help highlight other ingredients.

A Weekend With the Girls

Because I'm not going to have a vacation this year---time and money just won't permit---I arranged to have a Girls Weekend here on the farm. A lot of my friends had scheduling conflicts, so it ended up being just myself, Nyxana, Heather, and of course Ken.

Nyxana couldn't get here from Tennessee until Friday night, and had to leave again around Sunday noon, so our time together was pretty short. But we managed to have a good time and do a lot of fun activities during that time, including making a felted rug out of wool from my sheep.

Friday night, while waiting for Nyx to arrive, Ken, Heather, and I carded wool to for the rug while watching funny YouTube videos. When Nyx showed up, we put her straight to work too. We also had the first official Tasting of the Cordial.


Saturday morning, Heather (our early bird) got up before the rest of us and baked a fantastic batch blueberry scones, by far the best scones I've ever tasted, including the times I visited England and Scotland. Even better, she let me copy her recipe. Yum!

After breakfast, we had our Stuff Exchange. I've been cleaning out all the closets in the house and had a mess of cool stuff---clothes, jewelry, household items, decorations, etc.---I wanted to get rid of that was too good to just throw away, so it was mostly a "Stuff Giveaway" rather than an exchange.

But if we make this get-together an annual event, I hope other people will bring their stuff to exchange too. What could be more fun than a flea market where everything is free and the stuff is from friends who presumably share a lot of common interests with you?

Saturday afternoon, we crafted hand-made books, thanks to directions and materials that Heather brought, with some of my own craft materials added in. Ken and Nyxana had the best results. Partway through stitching the binding for mine, I realized I had started wrong, so I will need to start the stitching over before I can finish my book.

Saturday evening, while Ken made tasty burritos for supper, we girls laid out the wool for our felted rug: black wool with white overlay in the shape of the triple moon symbol (waxing moon, full moon, and waning moon).

Here's Nyxana, putting the finishing touches on the the moon design:


Then we turned on some music and had a good time pouring hot water and dish detergent onto the wool, then carefully stomping on it to begin the felting process. With soapy water on the plastic sheeting that was under the rug, the whole thing was very slippery, so we had to hold onto each other as we stomped, and we had to be careful because the moons kept sliding apart and needing to be repositioned.

After a while, everyone was getting tired and wanted to move on to some other activity, so we stopped even though the felting process wasn't complete.

Ken, Nyx, and I stayed up late on Saturday night talking, so we slept in on Sunday morning. But Heather, the early riser, got up early and made beautiful beaded necklaces for all of us, so we each have a memento of the weekend.

Since then, the rug has since been lying in the back yard waiting to be finished. It's felted enough to hold together lightly, but not enough to withstand any real pressure. I was going to wait until it was dry and then bring it inside to wait until I had time to finish it myself.

But it keeps raining here, so the rug has gotten a little bit of extra felting from Mother Nature in the form of rain and even one 2:00 a.m. hail storm!

Even though the rug is still soaking with last night's rain, and is laid across the back of our pickup truck to keep the sheep from walking (and peeing) on it, our cat Oliver Sudden knows a good rug when he sees it, and isn't about to let it go to waste: