24 October 2006

A stack of wood and a sunrise

This past weekend, Union Guy split a substantial quantity of firewood by hand - firewood which he had cut from slash piles with his chainsaw.

The Boy stacked it up so it is all ready to keep us warm this winter.

This morning, the sunrise was simply breathtaking.

Chasing sheep

The new Icelandic sheep like to roam. They scoot under a barbed wire fence like it's not even there - the barbs may snag a bit of wool, but they have such heavy coats I don't think they even feel the tug as they go under. They head out under the back fence, check out the neighbour's hay field, then wander back home. (Yes, I need to replace the barbed wire with woven wire. It's on the list of things to do.)

Yesterday, the sheep didn't come back home from their little field trip. On the school bus this morning, one of the kids told The Boy they'd seen four sheep down by the highway, so he called me from the school office and I went off in search of sheep. I did find them: they were visiting the cattle across the road! With the gracious help of the people who own the farm the sheep had decided to visit, the wanderers were chased back home. I'm glad I own a lifted 4x4 truck ... I drove through a couple of hay fields on the way back.

Late this afternoon, when I noticed the sheep were out beyond the back fence again, I decided that it was time to get the Icelandics into the small-but-more-or-less-escape-proof paddock. We'd tried this before but had no luck as the sheep are skittish and unwilling to go through a gate into a pen they know nothing about. I knew I had to be sneaky if I wanted to succeed. Natalie, the Icleandic flock leader, has a weakness for grain: a perfect opportunity for a sneak attack! I sauntered up to Natalie with a full bucket of grain and a piece of nylon rope looped casually across my arm. As I had hoped, she ignored the rope completely, perhaps assuming it to be nothing more than a fashion accessory, and settled down to eat the grain. The rope went around her neck while her head was in the bucket and - voila! - she was caught! She put up a good fight, though: getting her across the pasture took all my strength and I've now got rope burns on my hands. I was immensely grateful when my neighbour showed up to help! He pushed from behind, I pulled from the front, and eventually we each grabbed one horn and dragged her the rest of the way up the hill and into the paddock. The poor thing was exhausted when we were done, but we did manage to get her contained in a smaller pen where she could serve as bait for the others. The gate to the paddock was left open and we stood back: sure enough, within ten minutes the other Icelandics all made their way over to check on their leader, locked inside this strange chain link box. The gate was slammed shut behind them, and they were caught! Whew! No more escapes.
Neighbour was sent off with a dozen eggs as thanks for his efforts, and The Boy and I made the sheep comfortable in their new home. We moved the fenceline hay feeder into the paddock so they'll have something to eat, filled up a bucket of water, and fed them some grain.

Jack, the Southdown ram, was very interested in the ewes in the paddock (who are most likely in season right about now) so he was allowed to join them. After all, we do hope to have some lambs come spring time. :) The last time I looked, Jack was making faces at the girls, so I'll take that as a positive sign (rams make a very peculiar face when a ewe in heat is nearby: they curl up their lips and stick out their tongues - it looks tremendously goofy, but I guess it works for sheep!).

We do have fence posts up between the sheep shelter and the west fence line: I guess we'll have to get the woven wire pulled across there soon so that the sheep can all be kept in there over the winter. They'll need more space than they have now, but I don't want to be hunting through the trees for lambing ewes in the cold of January or February. A smaller pasture is definitely required. Besides, cross fencing and pasture rotation is part of good sheep management. :)

For now, at least, the sheep are safely tucked into a small but reasonably comfortable spot (with a ram for company!) and we can stop spending our afternoons chasing runaway sheep across the fields.

Knock on wood.

08 October 2006


There's a photo gallery, if you're interested in surfing through our pictures. It's a fairly recent venture and only haphazardly organized at this point, but you're welcome to look around.

I noticed tonight that Blogger images aren't going up properly (again) so I thought it might be an appropriate time to introduce the gallery. :)

Fall has arrived

Fall has indeed arrived - the leaves turned yellow one morning, and now, after a few breezy afternoons, about half of them have left their branches to rest in shallow drifts below the trees. I sat in the kitchen watching leaves flutter down, thinking that they look remarkably like snowflakes in their lazy fall to earth.

With the arrival of fall comes the beginning of a new year at school and all the associated activities. We purposely try to keep our lives on the quieter side, with no more scheduled activities than we can comfortably maintain. For us, that means 4-H is the only planned out-of-school adventure: we both really enjoy our involvement in the club, so although it can take up a fair chunk of time, it somehow doesn't seem like a burden or a heavy obligation ... it's an opportunity to learn together, spend time with people we like, and learn new things.

We had our startup meeting last week, and The Boy agreed to be the club secretary. Of course, nobody wants this job as it involves typing up the minutes of every meeting, but I did promise to help, so he consented to take on the task. Today we started the process, setting up a template that he can use each month, and documenting what went on during our first official meeting of the year. The position does come with some benefits, of course: he qualifies for additional credit in the club's points system: 4-H provides a wide variety of scholarships, grants, and exchange opportunities for kids and young adults, and maintaining a high level of involvement throughout your youth puts you in good standing for many of these awards. I discovered last month that 4-H in Canada actually runs exchange trips to Japan ... and of course, they need adult leaders to participate! You can bet I'll be looking into that!

Last weekend we finally met up with a lady who who keeps Icelandic sheep on a small farm just north of us. I have been pondering what breed of sheep to use for my 'foundation flock', and finally settled on either Icelandic of Shetland sheep: both are heritage breeds in need of preservation, and both are considered dual purpose sheep, with a high quality fleece as well as good meat. The Icelandic are actually triple purpose sheep - you can also milk them. That's not on the schedule any time soon, but it might be interesting to try at some point!

Anyway, the lady had a lovely group of Icelandic ewes and some crossbred lambs available for sale. I wasn't planning on taking them, but when she mentioned the price and it was a quarter of what I had anticipated, I couldn't turn them down! Today four new sheep arrived: two purebred (and papered) Icelandic ewes, and a pair of mixed breed offspring from one of them. The lambs are Suffolk/Icelandic crosses - a wether and a ewe - both of whom inherited lovely fleece from their momma, and pretty black faces and legs courtesy of their Suffolk father.

The lambs of these sheep will hopefully become part of The Boy's 4-H project: we are still collecting detailed information, but it looks like you can do a 'wool ewe' project which involves selecting a baby ewe lamb of a wool breed, then raising it for half a year and showing it at the spring fair where it is judged much like dogs are at a dog show - to see that it matches up with what it's breed should look like, and that it appears to be a good foundation sheep for breeding. The next year, you show that same sheep with her lambs, as you breed her in the fall. One more year after that, you can show her with new lambs again. The idea is that over the course of three years you can see the progress from baby lamb to proven momma sheep.

The other, more common, sheep project is a market lamb: you raise a baby lamb from birth until spring when it is sold at auction for meat. The Boy may attempt both projects this year - the most time consuming part of a 4-H project is the record keeping, but the records for both sheep projects would be similar, so we figure it's manageable.

Of course, he signed up for Crafts as well. I'm the Assistant Leader for both Sheep and Crafts. I think we're sufficiently occupied for the year!