30 April 2007

Bob has been found!

Bob was found today!

We thought we heard him last night, barking, in a field to the north of our land. Then again ... maybe it was the dog who lives up that way. Today, Union Guy headed over there and walked around, but had no luck. After The Boy got home from school, Union Guy suggested that he take a look over near the one line of trees that we hadn't checked yet ... and sure enough, there was Bob, tangled around a fence. He'd jumped over, gotten snagged, and wrapped himself around a few more times in an effort to get free. The Boy unhooked him and brought him home, where Union Guy had his dinner ready and a repaired trolley line waiting. Bob is now fed, happy, and safely tied up in the pasture.

McKenzie has been behaving very well - he stays home, stays with the sheep, and has pretty well outgrown his sheep-harassing stage. He barks at the coyotes (and the geese, and trucks on the road ...) and is being taught manners by the horned sheep (Bruce the ram has taken advantage of more than one 'teachable moment' when McKenzie got too enthusiastic!) Mac does climb the fences if they aren't tight enough, but I think he can be contained (our fencing skills are slowly improving). Unlike Bob, McKenzie can't leap a five foot fence from a standing stop: he has to crush the fence down with his not-insubstantial-weight and then force his way over. A line of tight barbed wire across the top should stop that particular habit.

Yup, fences are next on the list.

All that said, in the course of this latest adventure we had to do some hard thinking. We felt horrible wondering if Bob was hurt or lost or suffering ... but then again, McKenzie had things well in hand, he's quieter when he is by himself, and he stays with the sheep and doesn't need to be tied up. There was a measure of relief ... which of course was swiftly followed by guilt. We love Bob for who he is: his personality is somehow immediately engaging, and you just can't help but hug him when you see his goofy grin. Still, he doesn't seem to be a good fit for the job he was hired to do.

Bob has a wonderful personality and as a 'person' he is tremendously loveable. He is gentle with the lambs and sheep, and an excellent coyote deterrent. It is clear, though, that he needs much more space than we have: he simply cannot get it through his head that he only needs to guard our six acres ... he wants to keep an eye on everything he can see, which is, in fact, characteristic of his breed. The neighbours, though, don't really appreciate his help guarding their land.

It hurts to do it, but that doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do. I posted an ad tonight on the agriculture sale board where I first located Bob, last summer when we acquired our first sheep. There is a whole section on the board dedicated to herd and guard animals. In the right environment, I'm sure he'd do very well - but he needs something like a large cattle ranch (which is where he grew up) where he can keep an eye on the cattle and check out everything in the area unimpeded by fences.

It is painful to think of letting him go, but keeping him tied up is hard on him and on us, our fences are not likely to ever be sturdy enough to hold him (although with enough effort we might manage it), and it just seems unfair all around.

I did specify that we are looking for a "loving home", and I will be screening any prospective buyer carefully. It hurts to think of sending him somewhere else, he is such a neat character ... but it just feels wrong to keep him tied or harnessed or fenced in when his heart just needs to roam.

I hate tough decisions.

29 April 2007

Bob, MIA again

Our news from today is not so good: I went to the city yesterday to do some shopping and when we got home today, Bob was not here. Union Guy had made Bob a 'trolley run' so he could have some space to run but still be tied up - Bob is a danger to himself since he roams if he isn't tied, and the neighbours don't want him around (for which one cannot blame them). Anyway, it appears that Bob managed to pull the cable loose, and his lead slipped off the trolley ... so he is off somewhere, trailing 15 feet of coated airline cable. That will snag on something - and Bob will be caught. We searched the near vicinity, called for him, got no reply. We looked around his usual haunts... no Bob. No sign. I can't imagine him getting very far with that lead behind him, but he didn't turn up in our search of the area. Not encouraging.

I miss him already. Bob is such a cool character, even if he has some issues with doing the job we need him to do ... as a 'person', I really like him.

At least McKenzie stayed home with his sheep, doing his job and being a good guardian. That's an encouraging bit in a long day.

24 April 2007

Shearing by hand

Most people call a professional shearer when it is time to get the wool off their sheep. Since McKenzie had already removed half the fleece from Split earlier in the year, though, and I only have five other sheep that need shearing, it didn't really seem worth the trouble to bring someone in.

So ... I got a pair of hand shears, and talked Union Guy into volunteering for Sheep Restraint Duty: he holds the sheep steady, I trim. Trimming a sheep with hand shears takes me anywhere from one to two hours: I am sure it can be done faster, but I'm still learning! Cookie went first, and she looked like a completely different animal when we were done (I don't think she'd ever been shorn!). Natalie was second, and she was very unhappy about the entire process ... perhaps because her lambs were nearby. Brownie was the last we've done, and she was pretty relaxed in comparison ... she struggled some, but her fleece came off in lovely large chunks (I am not yet skilled enough to get a fleece off all in one piece). We put an old carpet down where we were shearing, so her fleece stayed nice and clean.

Unfortunately, the sheep look like they were attacked by a weed whacker when I'm finished with them. They are much cooler, though, and the fleece fluffs back up again after a few days, so they don't look quite so bad. :)

The rams are still not shorn, and they are panting and looking quite miserable, even at temperatures not all that far above zero.

We got plenty of wool from the Icelandic girls, and it is indeed lovely to work with. Brownie's fleece was cleaner and in larger pieces so I tried spinning it directly from the shorn fleece. Wonder of wonders, it worked out! I have several skeins of spun singles washed up and ready to be added to the scarf I am knitting from the fleece taken from my own flock of sheep. What a wonderful feeling to raise the sheep, shear them by hand, prepare the wool entirely on my own, and knit it into something useful!

Lamb updates

It's been awhile, so I thought I should post some lamb updates. :)

We went over to Leader's house today and picked up Curry, the Boy's new 4H market lamb. He was purchased at the beginning of the month, but he needed some extra time with his momma to get more milk and grow big ... and my goodness, that must be good milk because he has definitely gotten big! How do I know this? I carried him from the pen to the truck, and he is heavy!

We've been periodically weighing the other lambs, using our less-than-exact method of standing on the scale, picking up the lamb, and doing the math. It would appear that our first lambs are not gaining particularly well - they weigh only 15 lbs each, which is the same weight as Coca Cola and Clarence, who are a full month younger! Cola and Clarence are doing really well: they have lovely fleece and are gaining steadily.

Corolla still is our most active lamb. She loves tearing around the pasture, and at 25 lbs she is the biggest of our new arrivals (not particularly surprising, as she is a single not a twin). Cutter and Crumb, the first lambs, are healthy and happy, if small, and Cherub, The Boy's 4H breeding ewe lamb, seems quite content to sit on the hill and bask in the sunshine most afternoons. She is well up over 50 lbs, so weighing her is getting to be more and more challenging!

Aaaah ... sheep are great. :)

10 April 2007

Fibre Work

AC was asking for photos of my recent fibre work experiments, so here they are!

We start with raw fleece: unwashed wool, straight off the sheep. This is carded, meaning several bits of fleece are stuck to a board that has multiple metal teeth sticking out of it (much like a wire dog brush) and transferred to another card of the same type with a swatting/pulling kind of motion. The fleece is shifted back and forth from one card to another until the fibres in the fleece have been unkinked and most of the vegetable matter has dropped out. The finished fleece is then rolled into a rolag which is used for spinning.

Historical note: my Gram apparently hand carded all the wool for some blankets that are now on The Boy's bed.

As I have not yet acquired a spinning wheel, all my spinning is done using the ancient technology of a drop spindle. Similar devices have been used for ages and ages, even back before Biblical times. Spinning on one of these gives you an incredible respect for the women who spun thread on drop spindles, then wove it into fabric and sewed garments for their families (and tents, and saddle blankets, and everything else they needed).

The spun wool is usually plied, but this time I chose to just make loosely spun singles. This means that the wool was spun into a single strand of yarn then used as it is, without plying. In this picture you see the scarf I've started (well, I assume it is going to be a scarf, but I reserve the right to change my mind).

This is how the wool looks when it is washed. The spun singles on the spindle are wrapped into a skein that is tied in four places to keep the loops from unwrapping. The wool is immersed in hot soapy water, then rinsed clean and hung to dry. Before knitting with this yarn, I will wind it into a ball, as that's less likely to get tangled while I'm working with it.
Usually, two or three of these skeins of singles would be plied together into a single strand of yarn, but this experiment was to see what would happen if I knit with unplied singles. So far the finished product is looking a bit fuzzy and a bit uneven - the yarn is not spun to an even thickness. I've decided this is a feature: you pay extra for slubby yarn at the craft store, but hey, I can make that stuff all by myself!

09 April 2007

A day for experiments

We tried a bunch of things today.

Union Guy helped me shear a sheep (okay, he helped me make the table for the sheep to stand on, and held her while I trimmed fleece off with my new hand shears). The sheep, Cookie, looks ... well ... much smaller than she did before, but nobody is going to suspect that a professional shearer made a visit to my house. Still, it was good to get all that matted fleece off of her, she looks completely different now! The rams were checking out the 'new girl on the pasture'. :)

After that, I tried doing something with her fleece: total failure. Her wool is useless to me. Regardless, that was good to learn.

I tried spinning the wool of a different sheep (Banana Split): wow, what lovely wool! It spins beautifully. Of course, all the wool I have from her is contaminated with hay and burrs and other yukky bits of vegetation, but I carded and spun what I had, and got very nice wool out of the effort. I am now seriously contemplating sheep coats for my wool sheep!

For my next adventure, I tried knitting with spun singles. Allow me to translate for the non-spinning crowd: usually wool is spun (into one strand, a 'single'), and then two or three singles are plied together to make the final yarn that you knit with. I had heard, though, that you can knit with loosely spun singles and wanted to see if it worked. I have a couple of balls of singles spun from Split's wool, unwashed, unprocessed, un-anythinged, so I took one of those and started knitting. It looks really neat! I spun a few balls of wool from her fleece today, and washed a couple of skeins of it, so we'll see how that works out.

Today was a day for experiments and learning and messes: I have fleece and hay bits all over the floor! Still, it was entertaining, a good thing to do on a holiday Monday.

Oh, and you should see the lambs running around the pasture chasing each other. I had no idea they were this cute!

06 April 2007

Yep, just two!

Well, it would seem that despite appearances, Natalie was in fact carrying no more than twins!

They are lovely twins, though, and quite big. My less-than-perfectly-accurate weigh in this morning suggests they are between 6 and 8 pounds each! (Yes, a proper lamb scale is on my wish list.)

Here's Coke: if you look closely you can see her one black ear. It's quite funny to see this solid bit of black on an otherwise lightly coloured sheep!

And this, of course, would be Clarence.

Aren't they adorable?

05 April 2007

The last of the lambs

We are finally seeing the last of the lambs!

Both Natalie and Brownie (the two Icelandic ewes) went into labour today. They were the last two ewes left to give birth, so we're in the home stretch of this lambing season!

The Boy came home from school to find most of the sheep escaped from the pen (we did some temporary fixes to the fence, but it's really quite temporary and not all that solid ... clearly). Anyway, he was working on getting them back where they belonged when he heard a distinctly unhappy sound from Brownie: there she was, in the sheep shelter, with a lamb partialy born. He could tell she and the lamb were both in trouble and he very wisely called for help: our 4H Leader and her son were here within half an hour. By the time I arrived, they'd still not been able to budge the lamb and had called for further help. The lady they called in used to be a full time shepherd, and was able, after a good deal of effort, to get the dead lamb out. There was a twin as well, backwards and stubbornly refusing to come out. It was finally worked loose about half an hour later, but sadly, it had also died (and it was a lovely black lamb, too). Poor Brownie was exhausted and sore from all that work ... and no lambs to show for it. We will give her some pennicillin and extra molasses for the next few days to help her recover.

While all this was going on, Natalie had started into labour in earnest. With all the comings and goings in the pasture, she was a bit distracted, so everyone headed their separate ways and we went in for dinner. Natalie had her first lamb shortly after that - a white ewe lamb with one black ear and curly fleece, christened Coca Cola (that one was Union Guy's choice). I left mama and baby to themselves and set up the pyre for the lost lambs. By the time I got back to check on Natalie again, she was working on delivering a second lamb. I helped pull that one as she had been working on it for quite some time: Clarence the ram lamb was born about an hour after Coca Cola. Clarence is another of Auntie Ausra's name suggestions - he's named after the angel in It's a Wonderful Life. Here's Jack and Natalie with Coca Cola: Jack was quite curious about the new arrival.
I've checked on Natalie and she still seems to be working on some contractions, so I'm not positive if there are more lambs to come ... but given how huge she was it wouldn't surprise me. I'll be out to check on her a few times tonight, I suspect.

03 April 2007

Ouch, that hurts

We had a turn in the weather on Sunday - Saturday was lovely and sunny (although I worked outside in my coveralls and a toque), but Sunday the snow started and it was cold and wet and icy by Monday morning.

The drive to town wasn't too bad, although the city intersections were pretty slick. I skidded to a stop in the left turn lane on the second last corner before reaching my office and ... bump ... someone hit me from behind. Apparently she found the intersection slipperier than I did!

We got around the corner and pulled into the parking lot. I was stunned to see the damage to her car: she'd gone under my back bumper, and creased her hood about a foot down from the windshield, and there was a huge shattered spot in the center of the front window, from the pressure I presume. She was pretty rattled, but neither of us had any injuries and there were no passengers.

I went to the police station, filed my report, and dropped the truck at the tire shop. One of the rear springs was broken in the collision, so driving was a bit of a challenge - the steering wheel had to be held at an angle in order to go straight!

We have a chiropractor in the same building as my office, so I booked an appointment as soon as I got back to work. I'm quite sore and very, very tired, and will be getting adjustments and massage therapy for a couple of weeks at least by the sounds of things.

Thank goodness for The Boy, who is doing chores for me, and for Union Guy, who came and got me from work since I had no vehicle, and for Gram and Grandpa, who stayed at Apple Jack Creek with the Boy while I was stuck in town for the night.

And for Advil, without which I am sure I would get no sleep at all.

Time for another gel cap and off to bed ...

01 April 2007

Look how well the lambs are doing!

The lambs are doing very well!

This is Crumb, one of Cookie's twins, the first lambs born here: her adorable smiling face clearly shows who her daddy is - Jack, the Southdown ram.

We weighed everyone today (well, everyone small enough to lift): the twin lambs are up to 10 pounds each; Corolla, the newest addition (Split's lamb) is 11 pounds already! Cherub is sitting at 36 pounds, which is quite respectable, especially for a bottle lamb.

On Saturday, I was outside working on some fence repairs (our fences were little more than suggestions, really) and took a moment to look around: Jack, Natalie, Brownie and Cherub were all sitting on the hill, peacefully chewing their cud. Tired from pulling fence wire and digging through a frozen mass of hay and snow, I sat down next to the sheep. Bob came to sit beside me, then Duggan came and sat on the other side. I was outdoors, surrounded by animals, in the total quiet of the countryside.

I moved to the country for moments like this.

4-H continues

Yes, 4-H continues.

The Boy will be doing three projects in Sheep this year: a prospect ewe (this is a lamb born this year, to be bred and shown for the upcoming 3 years - Cherub), a yearling ewe (a lamb born last spring, to be bred and shown with her lambs for the next 2 years - Banana Split), and ... yes ... a market lamb. Cupid was to have been his market lamb this year, and any market lamb has to be owned by the 4-H member before weigh in day, which was today.

When our 4H leader heard about the loss of Cupid, she offered to let The Boy to come and choose another market lamb from her flock. This is a very generous offer: she downsized her flock recently, keeping only a few of her best show animals. As a result, every one of her animals is a stunningly beautiful sheep. Her flock had produced a lovely white wether lamb, born the same day as Cupid, of the same mixed breed as Cherub (a Columbia/Hampshire cross). The Boy picked him out on Saturday evening, and christened him Curry (thanks to Auntie Ausra for the name!). The new lamb weighed in today at 38.5 pounds, a very respectable starting weight. Curry will continue to live with his mama for a few more weeks to get all the benefit of mother's milk, so The Boy will make the run to Leader's farm after school a few times, and help out with chores and sheep care, and then Curry will move here to live with the rest of our sheep and feast on creep feed, grain, and ammonium chloride supplement (the mineral you feed sheep to help avoid the problems Cupid suffered from).