Sunday, February 25, 2007

Thrummed mittens

It hasn't been my habit to showcase my knitting here, since I meant to focus on the farm. But I promised, and since I'm using fleece from Victoria, our first born-on-the-farm ewe, well....why not?

It was the first batch of fleece I've ever processed from our Shetlands (see November 27, 2006 posting). And dyeing wasn't as easy as I had hoped...

But the actual finished product is absolutely dreamy. So soft and warm. I've gotten plenty of requests, but Madison and Bill are next. Just have to process some more fleece. What I processed the first time barely covered both mittens.. (Madison says absolutely NO pink in hers...)

What's amazing is what is created inside the mitten with the thrum of fleece...see?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Vermin story

During my usual moring perusal of all web things sheepy and good, I came across a blog posting on barn mice, and it reminded me of my worst farm rodent story yet. (We have several, but this was the yuckiest in my mind...)

Just like good fairy tales all begin with, "Once Upon A Time...", all rodent stories start with, "I Saw Something Moving Out Of The Corner Of My Eye..." and this time it was WAY too big to be a field mouse. So I broke out the poison. You know, the brick type that you can tuck away in all the nooks and crannies, and went to work. I didn't have to wait long, the pieces were all gone within a day. Now the theory is that they eat the stuff, go away, and die. Apparently our rats missed the "go away" part.

I went into the barn a few nights later, and as I rounded the dark corner where the hay is piled, I saw something white on the floor. Not wispy white, like a lock of stray fleece, but big and dead white, like the belly of you-know-what. Looking away, I continued my chores, knowing that DH was coming home soon and would clean up. Now the arrangement we have on our farm, is that I handle all spiders (DH is a raving arachnophobe!) and he handles all rodents. Dead ones at least.

So I fed the chickens and got ready for the evening's 4-H meeting. The kids were coming over, and we ran a poultry group, so I was going into the coop to collect their chicks so they could check on their progress, take photos, etc. Our coop and barn are constructed in such a way that you wouldn't want to troop a half-dozen kids out there just to retrieve their chicks from the mini-pen I had constructed for them under the laying boxes, so I did the retrieving. I got down on my knees, opened the mini-pen door, and froze in horror. There, facing me, just inches from my nose, was a big rat with its head poking through the chicken wire staring silently at me. I freaked, screamed, and jumped back, heart pounding. After a few seconds, I gathered the courage to look back where I had been, and there was the rat, still there. Now, I am no expert in rodent behavior, but I didn't think freezing in place was any defensive behavior I had ever heard of, so I was cautiously curious. I stared for a few seconds; it didn't move. I leaned closer to look; it still didn't move. The thought ran through my mind that perhaps this was some sick, practical joke and perhaps this rat was fake. Well, when I leaned even closer, I saw the individual hairs and whiskers, and thought, "Nobody invests THAT much time and money in a fake rat!" So I kicked some wood shavings at it to get it to move, and nothing. The shavings just settled on the rat in a very still manner, and I was starting to to realize something...this sucker was dead. Or very, very sick. A few more kicks of shavings, and I was sure - it was dead. I braved up enough for a closer look, and I saw that somehow this stupid rat had managed to get it's head stuck as it was (apparently) going after the chicks, and there it died. I ran back in the house to get my daughter to photograph it, and to see what I had seen, just so I had a witness to my story in case the thing came to life and somehow wriggled free before DH came home...

So much for the "go away" and die part. I am convinced these two rats did everything possible with their last dying breaths to put themselves right where I would see them. Kind of a defiant, final, one-finger salute. At least that's my story, and I'm sticking with it.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Pygora goats

Often overlooked, barely understood (by ALL of us...) are the goats. So it's time to give them a little shout-out and a post of their own...

We've been marveling at their fleeces this winter. For those that don't know, Pygoras are an all-purpose goat (meat, milk, fleece) but the reason we keep them is for their fleece. Wonderful, lofty, silky fleece. Can you tell?

Cicero is the silver wether on the top, Clio is the white doe on the bottom of the photo. I estimate the fiber is 4+ inches long. To harvest it, we have to shear them with the clippers. We don't tip them like we do the sheep. Rather, they will "tolerate" me taking care of them still standing. So far, it's been a lot of me chasing them in a circle and shearing in spurts, as they get haltered to a single spot, and they need to be convinced to stand still. But this fall I built a stanchion (yet to be tried out) that should alleviate the movement. The theory goes, that as soon as they feel their hind legs just out there in thin air, they will stop moving. We'll see. A bit of grain is supposed to keep them busy as we lock their heads in with a pivoting bar so they can't pull back out. I usually start with a strip down their center back to remove the greatest amount of guard hair. Then I shear down each side. Unlike sheep fleece, it doesn't really stay together to any great degree, so we collect the shearings from the drop cloth when we are finished with the sides. I take all the "good" fleece (the stuff not matted or too dirty) and that has to be de-haired before it can be spun. Then I clean them up, smoothing out the lumpy spots, taking tangles, stuff underneath and around the face. Clio has wattles (goatie jewelry) which always take an extra degree of care.

She refused to pose to show you her face, but here you can see how lucious the fleece is...IF we get it off in time. See, every year since we've had her, there's been some reason or another, and we've lost her fleece to matting and felting. It's been one of the most frustrating aspects of raising them...fleece to die for, almost overnight destruction if it begins to matt. Really. One day it's gorgeous, the next it's one large, un-usable carpet.

So the wait is on...can we make it to warmer weather, when it is realistic to shear, without the fleece going to hell? We'll see....and keep our fingers crossed.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


I've heard from many folks who are by now tired of the snow. But for us, it's the first real snow of the season! Really, less than 30 days from March, and we finally get snow that covers the grass.
As you can see, some of us are very good at making use of it...

Going down the front hill from the porch.

And then, some are not so easily amused. They seem to say, "What is this stuff you want us to WALK in?"

The sheep are just outside the barn door. They've been staying indoors in this very cold weather, partly because of space and pasture constrictions, and partly because they were sheared in October, and have short coats. Victoria is the ewe showing us her butt, and next to her is her brother, Blackjack, a nice moorit wether. Behind them is Secret, Victoria's lamb, and looking longingly back at the barn is Hattie's little muskit twin, Alexander.

Here's another shot, and this was after a lot of coaxing; they're just not interested in coming out in the snow!
(I can't say that I blame them...I'm curling up with seed catalogs and garden plans myself...and of course, knitting...)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Big Apple!

Anyone wondering where we've been the past few days needs to just look below...

Madison took this photo from the observation deck of the Empire State building. Our family took a little "working vacation" from the farm. (I was working, Madison was vacationing, and Bill, well he was working on overcoming his fear and trepidation with the city...) New York is a lot of fun, but nothing beats the tranquility of life in the country.