Monday, March 29, 2010

More Cute Lamb Pics

While taking pictures of the new lamb today, I couldn't resist taking a few more of Xaq and Xoco.  They are getting to the really cute age.

Smile for the camera!

Ulyssia's Lamb: Xolo

Our ewe Ulyssia surprised us yesterday morning by giving birth 4 days early.  She had a single white ram lamb, who was up, dry and fed by the time we discovered him.  Because of the heavy rains predicted, I brought them in for the night, but they are both back out in the pasture again now.

This picture looks like he's yelling, but it was actually a big yawn:
And now, for the results of this round of the Name That Lamb contest!

This lamb's name is Xolo, because that sounds a bit like "solo."  Not only was this lamb a single, he also has a really, really loud voice, and is quite capable of making himself heard even if he is singing solo!  The name was submitted by Carol of Loafkeeper Farm.  Thanks Carol!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lamb Pics: Xaq & Xoco

Here are a few pictures of Xaq and Xoco (and mom Rowena). The lambs are now 4 days old.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

We Have Guinea Hogs!

As if the first lambs of the year weren't exciting enough, we also had some other very important arrivals yesterday:  Our three new Guinea Hogs!

 Guinea Hogs are an extremely rare breed. They are listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Because they are smaller sized (150-300 lbs), good foragers, and very docile, they're good for small, homestead-type farms.

I am so excited to be adding these awesome animals to the farm.  By raising them, we will be helping to preserve a critically endangered heritage breed.  In return, they will improve our pastures, root out weeds, till our gardens, and provide us with meat to eat and piglets to sell.

They've only been here 24 hours, and I'm already totally in love.  They are just such happy, confident, charming creatures.  They arrived here after dark last night, and we shuffled them into the pens I'd built---the boy in one pen and the two girls in another, because the girls aren't quite old enough to breed yet.  This morning, they were completely content and peaceful, not at all weirded out to have been suddenly shipped hundreds of miles from home and dropped in a strange place.

When the boar saw me, he grunted a greeting and came right over to say hello.  He had no hesitation to step right up and let me pet him.

He is an absolute delight.  His registered name is Carmine because he was one of the extremely rare piglets who was born red (in what is essentially an all-black breed), and turned black when he grew up.  But we didn't think Carmine was a very "manly" name for a boar, so we're going to call him Magick instead.

He is friendly toward people, polite toward our cats and our rudely barking Pomeranian.  He likes to be petted, and he flops over on his side so you can rub his belly.

When I was rinsing his water dish, he decided to take the opportunity to have an impromptu shower.

The two girls are younger and not quite so confident as Magick, but even so they let me pet them after I scattered a little feed on the ground at my feet.

This one is Cerridwen:

And this one is Circe:

As you can see, we aren't the only ones who are excited about the pigs:

The dog and the cats are a bit unnerved, but for some reason, the sheep are simply awestruck.  It was hilarious to see all the sheep come streaming over to the fence, with such amazed expressions on their faces.  They have no idea what the pigs are, but they loved them instantly!

For more information about the pedigrees of our pigs, click here.

If all goes well, we hope to have our first piglets available for sale by November 2010.  Contact me for more information!

First Lambs!

The first lambs of the year were born yesterday.  Nobody who played the Guess A Lamb game got it exactly right, but a few people were pretty darn close!

Rowena lambed in the early evening yesterday, a BIG white boy, and a teeny-tiny moorit badger girl.  The boy weighed almost 11 lbs. and the girl weighed almost 4 lbs.  I've never had such a huge size difference in a pair of twins before, but her small size probably saved the girl's life, because she was a breech birth.

Often, when a lamb is born breech, their umbilical cord gets pinched while they are in the birth canal, which triggers them to try to start breathing while their noses are still in the amniotic fluid.  They often end up dying of pneumonia due to the fluid in their lungs.

But this girl was so much tinier than her huge brother, she didn't get squeezed at all, as far as I can tell.  I still need to keep an eye on her to make sure she's getting enough to eat (it's hard competing with a sibling who's nearly three times your size!), but so far it looks like both lambs are going to be okay.

It's impossible to get decent lamb photos in the barn, so I'll have to post some better ones of these two in a few days, once they're outside.  But meanwhile, here are a couple of blurry photos just to give you an idea of the enormous size difference between the two babies.

And now, for the results of the first round of the Name That Lamb contest!

The white boy lamb's name is Xaq (pronounced "Zack").  The name was submitted by my friend Stephen Pappas.  Thanks Steve!

The girl lamb's name is Xoco.  This name was submitted by Robin of MommyMommyLand and by Catherine Sanchez, a fellow Icelandic sheep breeder, of Applegrass Farm in Maine.  According to Catherine, the name is pronounced SHO-koh, and is an Aztec word meaning "little sister."  I figured this tiny lamb is probably the littlest sister we're going to have this year, so the name fits!

What's In Your Lambing Kit?

Each spring, novice shepherds everywhere wait anxiously for their first lambs to be born.  They wonder whether they'll need to help the laboring ewe or save the weak lamb.  They worry about whether they'll do it right.  And they worry about whether they'll have all the supplies on hand that they need.

At some point, every one of them asks, "What's in your lambing kit?"

So this year, as I was cleaning and restocking my lambing kit in preparation for my own flock's lambing season to begin, I thought I'd write down what I keep in there, and why.

Plastic tote:  Mine is an oblong plastic bucket with a handle and a built-in tote-tray that sits down into the top of the bucket.  I put "stuff I need to get to quickly or frequently" in the top tray and "stuff that needs to be kept clean and dry" in the bottom part.

Paper towels:  To wipe out the lamb's nostrils and mouth if necessary, and to wipe your own hands when needed.  I used to keep a regular terrycloth towel in the lambing kit as well, but I found that I never used it.  I always reach for the paper towels instead.  These go in the bottom part of the tote to keep them clean and dry.

Lamb puller:  I don't have to use it very often, but when I need it, this is a fantastic tool.  Once you get it positioned properly, it allows you to pull a stuck lamb far more easily.  I clean mine thoroughly between uses and store it in clean ziploc bags in the bottom of the tote, to keep it clean.

Sheep care book:  There are several books that are good, but this is the one I keep in my lambing kit.  In case of lambing trouble, it has clear diagrams of the different possible lamb presentations and directions on how to deal with them.  I don't need to refer to it much anymore, but it was a great confidence builder when I was less experienced.  I keep this in a ziploc bag in the bottom of the tote to keep it clean and dry.

Ball of yarn:  In a ziploc bag to keep it clean.  I usually wait until lambs are a few days old before I ear tag them.  Meanwhile, if the twins are so similar that I can't tell them apart, I tie a piece of yarn around the neck of one to identify which is which.  I wouldn't do this if my lambs were loose in a pasture where they could get the collar caught on something and strangle themselves, but my lambs are in small paddocks until they are at least a few days old.

Ear tags and ear tag applicator:  I use Snapp tags for lambs, as they don't weigh the little ears down very much.  Later in the summer, when the lambs have grown a bit, they get their adult ear tags.

A few extra ziploc bags:  Just in case.  You never know when something might leak or spill.  It's nice to have a few clean extras you can grab in a hurry.

Flashlight:  With fresh batteries. 

Head lamp:  With fresh batteries.  A flashlight is good if you're just checking on the sheep at night.  But if something comes up where you actually have to DO something with a sheep in the dark, you're going to want to have both hands free.  Head lamps are great in this situation.

Iodine:  The strong, 7% kind.  For putting on lamb's navels.  Keep this in a ziploc bag and don't spill it on yourself.  The fumes will sting your eyes if you get it on your clothes.  It will stain clothes, hands, and just about anything else.

Iodine navel cup:  I've used several types, and this is by far the best, sturdiest, least messy one.

Betadine:  For cleaning my hands and the lamb puller before assisting with a difficult birth.  I keep both Betadine Solution and Betadine Surgical Scrub on hand

Latex gloves:  To wear in case I have to do an internal exam or help with a birth.  I put several in a ziploc bag in my tote, and keep the rest of the box of gloves in a cupboard where they will stay clean.

OB lube:  To lube up my hand for internal exams, if a lamb is stuck or positioned wrong.  This is the brand I use, though I only buy it in much smaller quantities.  It would take me forever to use a gallon!

Baby Lamb Strength:  Each lamb gets a couple of squirts of this liquid to boost their vitamin levels and give them a good start.  (I can't find a direct link to this product, but it's available here.)

Watch:  So I know if that ewe's labor is REALLY taking a long time (so she might need help) or if I'm just impatient.  Since I can't wear a watch in case of doing an internal exam, I just fasten the watch to the tote, so I always know where it is.

Cell phone:  To call my husband out from the house to help me in case of a really difficult birth, or if there was an extreme case, to phone the vet.  Program in your vet's number, and if you have a sheep mentor who is willing to take your calls and talk you through any problems, program in their number too.

Scissors:  For cutting twine, etc.

Lamb scale:  To weigh the newborn lambs, for my records.  This one is very convenient and dependable.  The rest of the year, when I'm not using it to weigh lambs, I use it to weigh my wool and fleeces.

Lamb sling:  I DON'T use a lamb sling.  I have one that I bought (it's similar to, but not exactly like the one in the link), but it's too big for newborn Icelandics.  So I use a clean loop of baling twine to hoist the lamb for weighing.  I pass the loop under the lamb's belly, so that it comes up like long purse handles on either side.  Then I reach down between the lamb's front legs, pull that loop of twine forward, give it one twist to keep it in place, then pull it over the lamb's head.  I put each of the three loops (one on each side of the lamb and one behind his head) over the hook of my lamb scale, and hoist the little guy.  Hint:  Do this BEFORE you put the iodine on the lamb's navel, or you'll get iodine on yourself!

Emery board:  Occasionally a lamb will be born with a tooth that is so sharp that the mother ewe won't let it nurse.  A few quick swipes of an emery board makes nursing much more successful for everybody!

Notebook and pens:  To write down each lamb's info as it is born:  parents, date of birth, gender, color, weight, number of lambs born, whether it was an assisted birth, ear tag number.  I think you should write your lambing notes in a notebook with a beautiful sheep on the cover!  You can find some in my CafePress shop.

List of due dates for all the ewes:  So I know who's due on what days.

List of potential names for all the new lambs:  Ear tag numbers don't stick in my head, so I always name all my lambs too, so I can keep track of who is who better.  As each lamb is born, I pick a name from my list that seems to suit her.

Camera:  For taking photos or video of the newborns.

Other things that are often necessary during lambing season, but which I don't actually carry around in my lambing kit:

Milk replacer:  I've used a few different brands.  Currently I use Sav-A-Lamb.  Get one that dissolves instantly in water, to make your life easier!

Colostrum:  Each spring I milk colostrum from several of my best ewes, freeze it in ice cube trays, then store the frozen cubes in ziploc.  That way I always have some back-up in stock, in case for any reason I suspect a newborn lamb has not gotten enough from her own mother.

Pritchard teats and bottles:  These used to fit on any standard soda bottle, until the major soft drink brands changed their bottles.  Now each spring, I end up drinking a couple of six packs of generic Food Lion brand orange and grape sodas, to stock up on bottles that still actually fit the Pritchard teats.

Udderly EZ Milker:  This takes a little getting used to, but it's a HUGE help in getting colostrum or milk from a sheep.

Stomach tube:  I have one, but no matter how many times I look at the diagrams and read the instructions and have other shepherds explain to me exactly how to use it, I can NEVER seem to get the tube to go into the lamb's esophagus rather than its trachea.  Other people use these successfully, but I just can't get the knack of it, and I stress the lamb out with my repeated failed attempts.  So now I rarely risk using it.  If a lamb is too weak to suck, I warm him up and then trickle tiny amounts of colostrum into his mouth with a small syringe.

Penicillin:  If I have to do an internal exam on a sheep to help free a stuck lamb, I give the ewe a shot of penicillin afterward, to ward off infection because of any germs I may have introduced.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Guess A Lamb!

We're in the final countdown to the first lambs of the year now.  Who wants to join me in a game of Guess-A-Lamb?  I want to know:

  1. When will the lambs be born?
  2. How many will there be?
  3. What gender(s) will they be?
  4. What colors will they be?
Read on for hints!

This is Rowena, the ewe with the earliest due date.  Her due date is so much earlier than anyone else's, there's pretty much no doubt that she will be the first one to lamb.  These photos were taken 5 days ago.

Hint #1:   She was bred on October 29th, which means that her due date is approximately March 19-21. 

Hint #2:  Most Icelandic sheep have a single lamb their first year and twins thereafter, but triplets and even quads are possible.  Last year, Rowena had only one lamb, but he was twice the normal size!  Her lifetime lambing record is:  1,2,2,1.

Hint #3:  Possible lamb colors from this cross are:
  • White
  • Black solid
  • Moorit solid
  • Black badger
  • Moorit badger
  • And possibly, a spotted version of any of the above colors.
(If you want to see examples/explanations of the colors, see my article Icelandic Sheep Color Genetics.)

The time is getting close.  I'm going to clean and re-organize my lambing kit and finish getting the lambing barn set up today.  Before I know it, there will be lambs everywhere!

Friday, March 12, 2010

A New Interview

Check it out!  My farm and art are featured in another blog interview today.  I want to give a big "Thank You" to Cindy at Mommy's Dream Creations for allowing me to participate in this cool interview!

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Our new garden got its next round of improvement yesterday.  I cleaned out the lambing barn and, with lots of help from Ken, mulched the future garden beds thoroughly with the spent hay and bedding.

We mulched the bed areas and the path areas equally, since we want to discourage weeds in both places.  We didn't have enough to mulch all three beds, but we have other spent hay in other areas that we'll cart in to finish the last bed.  We just wanted to get the lambing barn cleaned out right away, since the first lambs are due in only 10 days.

Now we have several days of wet weather predicted, so that should help get the decomposition going.  Even so, all this mulch will obviously not be decomposed soon enough for us to plant seeds directly in it any time soon, so I've been contemplating various solutions.

First, we could just spread a lot of good soil on top of this mulch.  I'd probably want to use something similar to the compost/peat moss/vermiculite mix recommended by the Square Foot Gardening book.  But I realized that even if we provided the compost ourselves, it won't be cheap to buy enough peat moss and vermiculite to cover this entire area as deeply as it needs to be covered.

Then I read an excellent article about straw bale gardening.  The way I had seen this done before, you do pretty much what we're doing here:  lay the straw out and wait a year until it decomposes. 

But the article I read suggested that with a week of daily applications of water and high-nitrogen fertilizer, you could speed the decomposition process and be ready to plant much sooner.  Interesting!  I don't really want to use chemical fertilizers, but maybe blood meal would work as well.  I haven't yet priced how much blood meal costs around here.

Then I happened to read another excellent article about container gardening.  Since I have plenty of space available for my garden, I had not given container gardening much thought.  But it occurred to me that if I planted in containers, I would only need to get enough high-quality planting soil to fill the individual containers.  I wouldn't have to get enough to cover the whole garden.

I still have lots of old plant pots stored in the garage, leftovers from my previous gardening efforts at our previous residence.  I'm thinking that maybe I can plant in them, then nestle the pots down into the garden mulch to help them retain moisture. 

It would be sort of a combination of the various methods, and would get us started in a manageable way this year, while we work on building up the soil quality for next year.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Our Garden: Ugly "Before" Pictures

This is going to be the garden equivalent of one of those TV reality shows.  You know, the ones where they start out with someone who's ugly and unfashionable, and give them every kind of makeover imaginable until at the end they look like a super model.  Or at least better than they did before.

This is what we're starting with.  As you can see, we've got the "ugly" part well in hand:

For several years, this patch of ground was our main horse paddock.  So the ground has been grazed down to bare dirt, the soil has been compacted to brick-like hardness, and much of the topsoil has been eroded away from the constant dumping and refilling the horses' water troughs.

Then we sold all the horses, and the paddock was abandoned for a year, which allowed all manner of unpleasant weeds to take over.  A 6-foot-tall forest of thorny and toxic plants like thistle and jimson weed grew, flourished, and spread their seeds lavishly over the entire area.

Are you scared yet?  Because, frankly, I am, a little.  Just thinking of all those millions of little weed seeds waiting to spring forth and devour my future garden makes me cringe.  It's going to be an uphill battle!

With the poor condition of the soil, we decided that building raised beds would give us our best shot at success.  As I mentioned in my earlier post, in the absence of funds to build "real" raised beds, I was planning to rescue a large stash of old, discarded bricks out of the woods to use as edges for the beds.  

But while walking around making plans for the garden, I happened to notice the three abandoned telephone poles the power company left when they replaced our poles last year.  We've been keeping them, thinking we'd figure out something useful to do with them eventually.

Turns out they are exactly the length we wanted our raised beds to be!

Ken spent some time mowing down the forest of last year's weed stalks, and since the poles were far too heavy for us to move by ourselves, we got our neighbor to bring his tractor over to drag them into position.

They are spaced about 7 feet apart---room for a planting bed and a path between each one.  To compensate for the slight slope in the ground, we'll use the thick telephone poles as the lower side of the beds, and bring the old bricks or other smaller poles to form the top edges of the beds.

Next, we had planned to rototill the beds to break up the hard ground.  But when Ken dragged the tiller out of the shed, it wouldn't work.  Not exactly surprising, since the last time we used it was about seven years ago, before we had even moved to this farm.  So now we're considering whether to wait until we can get the tiller fixed before continuing our garden prep, or just skip tilling, and move on to the next step.

Just as a matter of timing, I'm leaning towards just moving to the next step.  First, because our pickup truck also just broke down and is currently at the shop, so we couldn't haul the tiller anywhere to be repaired right now anyway.

Second, because the "next step" we had planned was to thoroughly mulch the bottom of the garden beds with the old, spent bedding and hay from the lambing barn.  Since lambing time is fast approaching, I need to take advantage of this week's good weather and clean out the lambing barn in the next couple of days.  I would much rather haul all that mulch directly to the place where I want it, rather than having to pile it somewhere and then move it again after the beds are tilled.

After the bottoms of the garden beds are mulched with a thick layer of hay and bedding, we'll add compost and topsoil on top for the seeds to grow in.  The theory is that the hay mulch will help suppress the weed seeds that are already in the soil and will gradually decompose and add more humus to the beds.

Ideally, we would spend this year doing all this soil improvement, weed suppressing, and raised-bed building, and wait until next year before trying to grow anything in these beds.  But as I mentioned in my earlier post, we have our free seeds from The Dinner Garden sitting here waiting for a place to grow.  These seeds are counting on us, so even though conditions this year won't be ideal, we'll do our best.

With a little luck and a lot of work, perhaps by this time next year our ugly garden will look like a super model after all!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Equine Artist's Breyer Repaints Help Real Abused Horses

In addition to being an award-winning equine and wildlife artist, my sister Donna Chase is also a horse trainer and farmer.  She also happens to be one of the coolest people you could ever want to meet.

More than anything else in the world, Donna loves horses.  Even the problem horses, the abuse cases, the horses no one else can handle.  She understands them.  And they understand her right back.

Siberia Farm, Donna's small farm in northern Maine, has become home to a number of formerly neglected and mishandled horses.  Here, they find peace and trust again.

To raise funds to help support these special horses, Donna has turned her artistic talents toward a whole new genre:  Breyer Horse remakes.  Thousands of people collect Breyer horses, and the most valuable collector's items of all are the artist remakes, where a skilled equine artist reshapes, resculpts, and repaints the original shapes into a one-of-a-kind work of art.  These remakes sell for hundreds of dollars each, and go to become the pride of someone's collection.

Donna is taking the art form one step further.  She has just launched the first of her "RealHorse Remakes," a series of Breyer remakes depicting the actual, rehabilitated horses at Siberia Farm.  

First in the series is Piney, a chestnut Paint mare who was severely abused before coming to Siberia Farm.  You can read all about Piney's story, and see photos of the real, live horse here.

This beautiful work of art is at auction on Ebay until March 12, with a very low starting bid.  So act fast!  

All proceeds will help care for Piney and her other equine friends at Siberia Farm.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

My Free Seeds Have Arrived

Remember last week, when I posted about The Dinner Garden, an organization that offers free vegetable seeds to anyone who asks?  Well, yesterday, my free seeds arrived!

I was excited to open the package, because I didn't know what seeds I would be receiving.  While I do enjoy looking through stacks of seed catalogs, there's something liberating about not having to make any decisions whatsoever.

Here's what we ended up with:

  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Broccoli
  • Onions
  • Red Cabbage
  • Arugula
  • Daikon Radish
  • Mustard Greens
  • Fenugreek
The first four are some of my favorites.  Red Cabbage and Arugula I like but don't eat frequently.  The last three I've never tried.  I know that Fenugreek is supposed to help female animals produce more milk, so maybe I'll feed some to my sheep when they're nursing lambs.

The one thing I realized about all these seeds is that they all seem to be ones that want to be planted early.  There's no tomato, corn, cucumber, pepper, seeds here that want to wait until the soil is much warmer.  Which means I have to hurry up and prepare the garden space!

The place where we want to put the garden is where the main horse paddock area used to be when we still had horses.  The soil is dreadfully compacted there, and huge weeds have grown up.  So we need to cut down and clear out the remains of all those tall weeds, and I'm planning to counteract the horrible soil compaction by making raised beds.

I wanted to make raised beds before this, but the cost of buying materials for the edges was more than I wanted to invest.  But last time Ken and I were walking around trying to figure out where to put new fence lines for the sheep, we discovered a large pile of discarded bricks in a little section of woods. 

I seem to remember that one of our neighbors told me that this house used to have a brick patio.  It looks like when the owners tore out the patio (Why would they do that?  It used to be exactly where we'd like to build a patio now!), they just threw all the bricks in a pile near the edge of the property.  So now, my plan is to go rescue all those bricks to use as edges for my raised beds.  It wasn't what I had originally been planning on, but, like my seeds from The Dinner Garden, it's free!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Five Years With Sheep

How time flies!  It was five years ago today that I got my very first sheep, three bred Icelandic ewe lambs that I named Pandora, Portia, and Phoebe.

Three more bred ewe lambs from a different farm arrived a week later, and my flock was on its way.  Today I maintain a flock of about 35-50 adult sheep at any given time, and we're only a couple of weeks away from our 5th lambing season.

I can't believe it's been five years already.  I've learned so much along the way, but there's always more to learn.  Of course, things haven't always gone exactly as planned, but even so all I can say is, I am so happy that I got these sheep.  They are a blessing and a delight, every day.

In honor of my original three girls, today I've released a selection of cards, magnets, mugs, journals, shirts, and other cool gifts in my CafePress shop, featuring the photo above.

I have a lot of other designs on there too, featuring all my favorite photos of the sheep, the horses, the farm, and our glorious sunsets.  So check it out!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Soapnuts: A Totally Natural Laundry Soap

I don't usually make a practice of doing product reviews on this blog, but this product is just so cool, I have to tell you about it.  I'm not affiliated with the company in any way.  I just thought this was an interesting product.

Soapnuts are nothing more than the dried fruit of a Himalayan tree (Sapindus Mukorossi).  They contain saponin, the natural substance that makes soap soapy.  You just put 3-4 of the little, grape-sized dried fruits into the included muslin bag, pull the drawstring closed, and toss the bag in with your load of laundry.  

That's it.  They get your laundry clean naturally.  No petro-chemical-based detergents, no bulky plastic jugs to fill up our landfills.  The 3-4 nuts you put in the bag can be used for up to 4 loads of laundry before they lose their effectiveness.  Then you can just compost the spent ones and refill the bag with a few more.

You can use Soapnuts in a lot of other ways too, from household cleansers to shampoo.  Check out their website for more info.