08 October 2006

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!

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