Tuesday, January 26, 2016

First babies of 2016!

Our new intern Stefanie took a walk this afternoon and came back to tell me that there were two lambs in the sheep pasture. What?! The sheep I just bought last month? They weren't supposed to be due until the end of February at the earliest. I had even said to the seller that one looked very pregnant, and she said, "Oh, she always looks like that."

We just happened to have three guests visiting at the moment, and they were totally excited about heading out to see the new lambs. I took a towel in case they still needed to be dried off a little. After arriving in the pasture, it took quite some time for Stefanie and I to get close enough to the lambs to be able to pick them up and figure out if they were rams or ewes. Since these are meat sheep, and I'm just starting my flock, either one is a win, as rams will be meat, and ewes will grow my flock of breeders. As it turned out, they are both ewes, so our little flock has already grown to five ewes in only one month!

Unfortunately, temperatures were in the 30s, and rain was in the forecast. Mama Star had given birth in the middle of the pasture with no wind blocks. The darker lamb was really shivering and not great at nursing. It appeared to be the younger of the two, as it was also still pretty wet. I was glad I'd brought the towel! I picked it up and towel dried it as much as I could. It was very happy to snuggle into my arms, so it was hard to put it down again, but I knew it really needed to nurse.

After a few more minutes, it finally nursed, and I was feeling pretty good about the situation. I know some people would have put mama and lambs into a barn or "jug," but it was a long way to the barn, and we had no halter with us, so it would have been just about impossible to take them. I told everyone that we'd go back to the house, and I'd check the barn to see if there was a place we could get ready for Star and her babies. I'd also think about strategy. I wasn't in a huge hurry because I wanted Star to have time to bond with her babies. I didn't want her to get freaked out about moving and reject the lambs.

As I was sitting in the house chatting and enjoying a cup of hot tea, Stefanie asked, "Is that rain?" I looked at the forecast on my phone, which said there was only a 40% chance of rain that hour, but who can argue with water falling from the sky? So, I called our other intern to help us, and the six of us headed back out to the pasture. We quickly caught the two lambs, but mama was not very happy about the situation. It took us quite a bit longer to catch her. Being new to our farm and us, she didn't entirely trust us yet.

We eventually got a halter on her. I knew she was not halter trained, but I figured it would be easier to hang on to the halter than simply her body as we tried to get her to follow us with her babies across the pasture and the front yard to the barn. It took about 30 minutes to cover a distance that normally takes only five, but we did it. Stefanie and I were each carrying a lamb, and the other intern and two of our guests were leading and pushing mama to follow us, while the third guest was closing gates behind us as we were crossing through multiple pastures. It was quite the team effort!

Once we got them all into a nice warm stall, we were a little worried about the black lamb as she just wanted to lay down and sleep. I'm very happy to report that she finally decided to get up and start nursing again as everyone was doing afternoon chores. So, I'm very optimistic that they'll do great.

Although our Shetlands always lambed on pasture with no help from us, we never lambed in January! Going forward, we certainly don't plan to have any January lambing in future years either. We got incredibly lucky that the weather is actually quite mild right now, although had they stayed out in the freezing rain, we still could have lost both lambs, so I'm very grateful that we found them when we did -- and that we had the help here to get them moved into the barn. I'm definitely sleeping better tonight knowing that they're inside.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Meet the new sheep

I had never eaten lamb in my life until we found ourselves with too many Shetland wethers, and I discovered that it is very tasty. Although I have more than enough wool to last me a lifetime, and there was no reason for us to have wool sheep, I knew I would miss the lamb meat. So, I've been looking at hair breeds of sheep for a few years now. Unlike wool sheep, they shed, so they don't have to be shorn.

Once the Shetlands were gone (other than the four I decided to keep as pets), I started perusing the Facebook sheep groups, and within a week, I found three pregnant sheep for sale about 60 miles away. After asking lots of questions about biosecurity issues, I decided to buy them.

My daughter Katherine was visiting from Colorado over the holidays, so she and I drove to pick them up.

This is Starburst, a pregnant 3-year-old Katahdin ewe looking at me, and the back end of her daughter Izzy, who is half Dorper. The black sheep in the photos below is Poppy, who is a half-sister to Izzy through their sire.

Since we bought only three Shetland ewes back in 2003 and never added to the flock, we were not accustomed to seeing new sheep introduced to a flock. They were a lot more like dogs meeting each other than goats. Goats always do a lot of head butting, but dogs sniff each other, which is what the sheep were doing.

We put the new sheep into a field that was next to the field where the Shetlands were grazing. First they sniffed each other through the fence, then the Shetlands realized they could go through the gate to get up close and personal with the new additions. Oscar the llama just kept looking at them over the fence.

So, after much sniffing of each other, they all walked off together to graze, and they've been happily grazing together ever since. The ewes are due to lamb anytime after late February. Hopefully we'll have good weather whenever it happens.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Ask me about my sheep

I don't even know how many times I've said I'm going to sell the Shetland sheep in the last few years. It's kind of embarrassing. I knew I needed to sell them. It just wasn't easy to find a suitable buyer. I am rather picky about who buys my animals. I feel responsible for them and want to be sure that they go to a home where they are appreciated for what they are.

I started writing the following blog post on December 10 but never actually posted it because before I could finish it, everything changed ...
I am facing a very difficult decision with the sheep. Since my daughters have moved away from home, the sheep are not appreciated as they once were. My daughters were into spinning, knitting, crocheting, and felting. Now one is an electrical engineer in Texas, and the other is a biological chemist in Colorado. And we have more wool than I will ever use in my lifetime. I've posted a flock liquidation sale post on Facebook a few times, and each time I get a few people asking questions, but no one actually buys any sheep. 
There is really no point in feeding 29 sheep through another winter when we have no need for their wool. I do want to keep Winnie and Kewanee, the twins that I bottlefed after their mother died, but other than that, the rest need to go somewhere. I am hesitant to send them to an auction because I'm worried that some moron will buy them who doesn't understand that you shouldn't breed a 300 pound ram to these little Shetland ewes. I've seen too many horror stories on Facebook about people breeding huge bucks to little Nigerian does. So, I am contemplating butchering them all. I doubt that will happen overnight though, so if you know anyone who wants some lovely fiber sheep, send them my way.
I had just posted a few more Facebook ads when I started working on that blog post, and within a couple of hours, I had several serious inquires, and before the sun set, 25 of the sheep were gone. The photo was taken that afternoon when we got them all rounded up and ready to load.

I kept the twins I mentioned, as well as an 11-year-old ewe named Cheyenne and a middle-aged ewe name Godiva who had mastitis last time she lambed, so I didn't want her to be bred again. They will be our school sheep. We can still talk about wool sheep and do a shearing demo as part of a sheep-to-shawl class. But there will be no more Shetland lambs. I am kind of sad about that because they are beautiful animals, and I will miss having them in the pasture.

Did you notice that I specified no more Shetland lambs? We will have lambs in the spring, and I'll tell you about that in a couple of days.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A difficult decision -- but the right one

On December 23, I sold Charlotte the goat. If you know who Charlotte is, you'll probably be shocked, but I know it was the right decision for her. Because she was a top milker in her prime, buyers have waited as long as a year or two to get a kid from her at $600 each, and since she always has three or four kids, she's been a very profitable goat. But I learned a long time ago that I should never make a decision based on money alone.

I asked the buyer to pick her up after my daughter Katherine was home for Christmas so that she could say good bye to Charlotte. The above photo was taken with Katherine just before Charlotte left. I've heard from her new owner already, and she is enjoying her new home, and her new owner is loving her. I wrote the following post on December 10, but never got around to posting it ...
I made a decision today that seemed difficult, although I know in my heart it's the right decision. About ten years ago, a young teenage girl bought four goats from me. Those goats have had the best life that anyone could ever hope for their goats to have. They've been well cared for and loved. One of them recently died, and the owner, who is now a young adult, called me and said she'd like to get another older goat to join the herd, so today she came over to pick out one of my retired does. I showed her three that I was willing to part with, but none of them were really striking a cord with her. 
Then Charlotte walked up to her and just stood there. As she started to pet her, you could see the magic happening. I never thought I would ever sell Charlotte. She spent the first month of her life living in my daughter's bedroom, and she was #1 on AGS's top ten list for one-day milk tests in her prime. But she's going to be 9 next year, and her last two kiddings have really taken a toll on her. I worry about her a lot. So, it makes sense to let her retire early and go to a farm that is basically the human equivalent of retiring at a lovely resort.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Farewell 2015, and hel-l-lo 2016!

All things considered 2015 was a pretty awesome year. You may think that coming on the heels of 2014 and 2013, the worst years of my life, it wouldn't take much to make me happy, and you'd be right. But even if it hadn't followed 2014, I'd still say that 2015 was a good year.

First and foremost, my health is improving by leaps and bounds. I've put my Hashimoto's disease into remission, which most doctors would say is impossible. But lab tests don't lie, and my TPO antibody levels are continuing to fall. Depending on who you ask, some people would not even diagnose me with Hashimoto's now because my antibody level is down to 47. Some health professionals draw the line at 60, some at 30, and some at 6, so the lower it falls, the better!

However, as I said, 2015 would have been a good year even if I had never been diagnosed with Hashimoto's. Why? Because I lost 38 pounds without even trying, and many little health annoyances have disappeared or are improving. For example, I used to wake up in the middle of the night feeling nauseous, and that no longer happens. After 30 years of migraines, I no longer have them either. After a lifetime of constipation, that rarely happens now. My arthritic knees are also much happier, which is no doubt a direct result of giving them 38 fewer pounds to carry. I have actually never weighed less than 150 pounds since I was 14 years old (other than when I was breastfeeding), and now I've been at 132 pounds for more than six months. But if I'm honest with myself, I never would have made so many positive and healthy changes in my life if I had not been diagnosed with Hashimoto's, so it appears to have been a blessing in disguise.

As a result of my health challenges, I became certified as a health coach, and I've decided to start a new blog, which will be launched very soon. I've been working on it for a couple of months. So many people have asked me how I put my autoimmune disease into remission -- and accidentally lost 38 pounds -- and there is no short answer to that question. What worked for me may not work for anyone else, but the path I followed, which was long and winding, will lead many people to a healthier life, so the new blog will be called Healthier Paths. I'm hoping that by sharing what I've learned, others will be able to find their own healthier paths.

In addition to my personal goals for 2016, I have also been working towards my goal to turn Antiquity Oaks into a teaching farm, as well as a truly productive farm. This year we will be partnering with one of our former interns to create a market garden and sell produce at farmer's markets in the Chicago area. You might remember Sarah from three years ago, as she wrote some wonderful blog posts on here, such as this one about Gerti the blind goat. After leaving here in 2013, she went to the west coast and interned on several farms there before coming back to the Chicago area to work on some farms in this area. We are really excited about her coming here as our garden partner this year.

We are also partnering with the wonderful people at Nature's Farm Camp to have an overnight camp here on the farm for five weeks in the summer. Each camp runs from Monday through Friday. Four weeks will be for kids 8 to 12 and one week will be for young teens. I can hardly begin to explain how excited I am about this! It's going to be so wonderful teaching children where their food comes from and how to prepare it, and I'm so happy and honored that the wonderful people at Nature's Farm Camp found us and decided to have us host the 2016 camps.

I'm also increasing my online teaching load for the University of Massachusetts in their sustainable food and farm program. For three years now, I've taught a class in raising dairy goats sustainably, and this spring, I'll be teaching a class in pastured poultry. Their sustainable agriculture program is growing by leaps and bounds, and US News and World Reports ranked them as the 8th best agricultural university in the world with only two other US universities listed higher.

Thursday marked 11 years in our house, and it's still not finished. When you live on a farm, there are always more important things to do than put trim around your windows or baseboard on the walls. Mike did finally put tile around the master bathtub this year, and I was planning to do a blog post as soon as he gets the grout on, but it's been five months without grout now. I should probably go ahead and show you how great it looks, even without the grout. Then I can celebrate again when he gets the grout on.

Later this month, this blog will turn 10 years old, which is hard to believe. One of my goals for this year is to get better about posting on here.

So, that's where I find myself at the end of 2015 and heading into 2016.


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