here

I might not have all my ducks in a row but my eggs are another story.

I may not have all my ducks in a row but my eggs are another story.

I’m not sure if there is anyone left around here to read these words but I think I will type them none the less. A 9 month absence must be enough to kill a blog, especially a little one like mine, but I will write because I need to dump all of these words and thoughts out of my head. I need to keep a record of our days and experiences if for no other reason than that I want my kids to have it. So, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter if there is anyone here reading this as long as someday in the future the kids do.

I know I have said this before but this was meant to be a journal of our homesteading experiences and this year has been real short on the homesteading bit. I mean, we are still here, still chopping firewood and moving sheep, still butchering our own animals for food, still pulling a plant or two out of the ground to grace our dinner table but it all seems far and few between and certainly not noteworthy enough to write a post for. Really, what would that look like anyway?

We woke up this morning and walked the 10 sheep 10 feet from pasture 1 to pasture 2 today.

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We harvested carrots for tonight’s dinner from our one and only row planted this year.

Awe inspiring it is not.

So rather than manufacturing posts and scraping together a few pictures, I just avoided it all together. Spring and Summer around here were spent mostly in doctors’ offices, either for my issues or for pre-op, op, and post-op (which in the end lasted months longer than it should have) on Kevin’s right knee. Our two biggest projects consisted of Kevin digging a new waterline out to our overwinter pastures (which took nary a long weekend) and him rebuilding our back deck, a highly boring job but one that had to be done, lest the whole thing went crashing down sometime this winter, buckling under the weight of two feet of snow.

Of course, we still felt busy because while none of those things look all that impressive individually, string 1000 mundane moments together and they still take up a hell of a lot of time. Add in that half of those 1000 things involve an animal with an instinct, an agenda and a mind of its own you might as well multiply it by a million. On top of it all there are two little kids needing time and attention (Exhibt A: while just typing this I had to field a question from PJ as to what is actually happening when we burn wood in the woodstove. This led into a discussion of atoms, molecules, hydrogen, carbon, waste products, atmospheric gases, incinerators and how it all impacts the environment.) Granted, we got our science lesson for the week (month? next year?) out of the way but you can see how this might all make a mom (and dad for that matter) a little too tired to muster a weekly blog post.

So what else is there to say? I have missed writing and all the cathartic side effects that come along with it. I have struggled with what to write about and how to walk that line of feeling like I have to share and sharing because I want to. I want to connect with other like minded people as well as people that can help me expand my mind. I’m not going to make any broad sweeping statements that I am going to show up here every day, or every week for that matter, but I do know that I want to show up. How that’s all going to play out I have no idea but I do know if anyone wants to come along I sure would enjoy the company.

and that’s a wrap

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With the arrival of one last little ewe, we officially ended our 2013 lambing season on Monday. That makes seven ewe lambs and six rams for a total of 13 babies born. Almost an average of two sheep per bred ewe, which I am to understand is a pretty good result with Shetlands, especially considering many of them were first time mothers.

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With the exception of Hope and Catalina, who both lambed the same morning, each ewe gave birth within 48 hours of the previous lambs being born and I dare say you may have been able to set your watch to it. I think Kevin and I agree that it was the most fun we have had in all of our farm duties to this point. The anticipation of each ewe going into labor, combined with the surprise of how many would be delivered and what the new lambs would look like, made it that much more exciting.

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As far as we know (about half of the girls lambed without any of us witnessing the process) there were no birthing issues with the exception of the slight surprise of Catalina’s second twin being born hind legs first. No complications have occurred, no lambs have been rejected and all Moms and babies look healthy and energetic. All of the first timers have taken quite well to their new roles as mothers and milkers and we have been slowly introducing the new additions into the flock with little to no issues.

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We did have a couple of surprises that shocked even us. One of my favorite girls, Hannah, graced us with triplets (two ewes and a ram, no less) which is not only fairly rare in this breed of sheep but even rarer in a Shetland ewe’s first time lambing. The littlest of her lambs weighed in at 3 pounds and took an extra day to fully get her legs under her but she’s a little fighter and seems to be catching up quite nicely to her brother and sister. She has learned how to fight for her time at the udder to be sure that she always gets her fair share. Hope, one of our more experienced ewes, only had a single which I was not expecting but looking back on it now I should have been able to tell from her shape while pregnant. Her lamb turned out to be our only other completely white fleeced baby and was unfortunately a ram. Granted, he was the largest lamb born this year, weighing in at 9 pounds, and seems to have a very cute personality. While I was in the barn checking on everyone this afternoon, I turned around to find him chewing on the hem of my pants while his mother stood by nibbling on some hay.

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Looking back over the entire breeding and lambing process I believe that it was a success. Traveling to buy Zeke and Fergus looks as though it will pay off quite nicely as they have sired large, strong, healthy and interesting colored lambs. All the mothers have taken to their new roles better than I could have hoped for and have seemingly provided us with beautiful additions to our growing flock. I am fairly happy with the breeding pairs that I made and for the most part got the colors and patterns that I had hoped for. We are already looking forward to next fall’s breeding schedule. With a few tweaks, and last year’s ewe lambs being added to the mix, I am hopeful and excited to see what we get in 2014.

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For now it is back to sleeping through the night without going out on barn checks, having more time to write and post on this little blog of ours, as well as catching up and commenting on others, and attending to all our normal spring duties here on the farm. All with a few moments stolen to watch our little lambs bounding and hopping in the sunshine, of course. ūüėČ

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this morning’s arrivals

Here’s a little cuteness to welcome in your weekend.

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Kevin found Dessie with her new twins during our scheduled mid-morning barn check. They were nestled in a corner of the barn that the pregnant ewes have been taking turns resting in. There were no complications (that we know of) and they were both walking and nursing by the time we found them.

They are exactly the color and patterns I had hoped for when I paired Dessie with our white ram, Fergus, and happily, both turned out to be ewes. I am overjoyed by their adorableness and the promise they carry with them for this little farm of ours!

Welcome Addie and Abbie.

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Abbie

Born April 5th, 2013

Sometime between 9am and 11am

7 lbs

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Addie

Born April 5th, 2013

Somewhere between 9am-11am

6 lbs

Please excuse the less than stellar photos. Bad lighting in the barn (plus a very excited me using my iphone) equals not so great pictures. I would also like to give all the credit to PJ for naming the new little ones. We told him that all of this year’s names would have to start with an A and he ran with it from there. Have a happy weekend…we will most likely be spending it, in the barn, cuddling the twins! ūüôā

baby, it’s too cold outside

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We have had quite the cold snap around here as of late. A week with temperatures feeling like they are below zero, or colder. Hence, we have only done the absolutely necessary outside (breaking water in the few unheated waters, delivering daily meals and collecting eggs), you would too if, while milking your cow, the milk was freezing to the side of the pail almost instantaneously! Instead we have been attending to indoor chores (ugh, I’m getting tired of looking at tax paperwork) and doing our best to entertain ourselves while being cooped up for what looks to be a relatively short period of time. I have never been so happy to see a HIGH of 20 in the forecast.

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The sunrise is beautiful but I would rather be curled up inside, in front of the fire, with a hot cup of coffee.

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That 6 degrees on there, it actually felt like -15.

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They have spent a lot of time staring out the windows, wondering why we won’t let them go out to play in the snow.

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When we do venture out we are constantly looking for a quick escape from the frigid temperatures, this day we linger a little longer than usual in the barn wishing that sunlight streaming in actually felt warm.

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Through it all the ladies have kept up their laying and we have been fighting to keep the coop feeling warm for them. We do come out to a few frozen and, consequently, cracked eggs everyday though.

With every challenge there comes opportunity (that’s been my daily mantra as of late after all) and with our extra time inside we have been…

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Making future plans.

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Grabbing a nap when we can.

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Taking time to play games, Trivial Pursuit for the adults, Crazy 8s or Go Fish for the younger set and Scrabble for the bunch of us.

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Cuddling up in front of here whenever possible.

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Taking the time to sit and create when the urge strikes us.

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Being warmed by the sweetness that the kids show us. PJ brought this back to me after a trip out with Nonni. I think he learned that from his daddy. I’m glad he’s been paying attention.

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Been waking up to this in the slow cooker for breakfast, hoping it will help us to warm up on these very cold mornings. Overnight Oatmeal: Steel Cut oats cooked in milk and water, your choice of fruit (in this case Ida Red apples) cinnamon and maple syrup. Yum!

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And when nothing else was able to warm us up we indulged in a glass of this¬†(Rhubarb Tea is on the agenda for spring.) It’s delicious and if you haven’t tried it yet you should grab a bottle, your sweetie and cuddle up under a blanket, preferably by a roaring fire.

Here’s to staying warm. Cheers!

The two new men in my life.

 

Meet the newest men here on the farm, Fergus (on the left) and Zeke.

 

In late October we took a road trip to New England to pick these two handsome guys up. Kevin, the two kids and I piled into the pickup truck and hit the road. Kevin and I fueled by coffee (with a little a lot of knitting thrown in for me) and the kids passing the time with a mix of movie watching, lots of pre-packed snacks, the occasional car nap and some good old travel games.

 

In the name of full disclosure, this particular farm addition scared me a bit. I had been told scary stories of rams attacking their shepherds, hooking wrist with their horns, butting anyone who dared to turn their back on them and beating other rams until they were both bleeding, or worse. But to have our own herd, and to turn a profit, we have to sell breeding stock. The fiber is fun but it won’t pay the bills. A ram, in residence, had to be next on the list, whether I was fearful or not.

 

We had spent months searching, weeks visiting various breeders and every ram we saw was either not for sale or didn’t meet the list of traits I was looking for. I was growing more and more frustrated and we were fast approaching the time of the year for breeding that would result in spring lambs. Finally, we found Fergus, after a month of phone tag and lost emails with his breeders, and decided to buy him. They then offered Zeke for sale and we decided to bring him in as well, his bloodlines were too nice to pass up (bloodlines that were completely unrelated to Fergus) and we were told that a ram would not do well alone, so it was a no brainer. Both Fergus and Zeke are the result of artificial insemination and their fathers are rams who live on the Shetland Isles and bringing them here was a great way to get authentic, UK genetics on our farm.

 

The trip back was smooth and uneventful, they spent most of the time munching on hay. It was an important trip for the future of the farm and we managed to squeeze in an impromptu family vacation. Hurray for the happy coincidence that the only reasonably priced hotel room, in a 30 mile radius, had an indoor water park attached to it. Plus, it was only an hour drive from Kevin’s alma mater, so we got to tour that as well.

 

They’ve been here for a few weeks now. Right away it became apparent that Fergus was the more personable of the the pair and when ever I walk into their paddock he trots over to my side for a nuzzle and a good scratch under the chin. Zeke is more stoic, the dark, silent type, and will only endure a bit of loving if he absolutely must. They have very distinct personalities, almost more so than the girls. My fears subsided after a day of actual interaction with them and has now been replaced with respectful awareness. I think they are wonderful and we are very excited to see what they bring to our herd this coming spring.

 

Welcome boys! You will officially make us Shetland Sheep breeders, and for that, you will always hold a special place in my heart. Now, I have some ladies I’d like you to meet…

Where we’re at

‚ÄúThe real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.‚ÄĚ ¬†-Laura Ingalls Wilder

The past few weeks have been a blur and the next few promise to be more of the same. It’s a busy time here on the farm, especially since it’s our first Autumn. No big posts are on the horizon but I like checking in and keeping everyone updated, so here is what we have been doing…

>Celebrating not one, not two but three birthdays. PJ, my mama and Kevin are all another year…wiser!

>Preparing for two new arrivals. It is very exciting and extremely nerve-racking, all at the same time.

>Anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first little calf, trying to soak up all the information and knowledge that we can about birthing and milking. All the while, knowing that we won’t truly “know” anything until we are in the thick of it.

>Picking, reorganizing and constantly shifting sheep breeding groups, on paper, in the hopes of getting spring lambs with the characteristics we are looking for.

>Desperately trying to get the girls back to laying after a sudden cold snap that made them stop, overnight!

>Trying to come to terms with the fact that we now have not one but two roosters in residents. Which is quite funny considering we paid extra for sexed chicks. (As long as they continue to behave and be respectful they can stay. If that changes they will quickly become dinner!)

>Working on getting Mum and Poppy to eat out of our hands and to let us give them a good pat or scratch.

>Thinking that the time spent last week carefully monitoring the weather for frost advisories was a complete waste of time. We were trying to strike that balance of soaking up more time to ripen the produce without losing it.

>Feeling fooled when we awoke to a frost, considering the weatherman said it wasn’t supposed to drop below 40 degrees overnight. Our best guess is the windstorm that unexpectedly blew through brought with it a windchill that dropped temperatures below freezing.

>Feeling sad that I lost all of the remaining basil to said frost.

>Feeling irritated that a good amount of squash got compromised by the frost and now, rather than tucking it away to use later in winter, I need to process it immediately.

>Prepping for next year’s sweet potato plot and how we are going to fight what ever it was (rodent?) that gnawed on ¬† ¬† almost half of our crop, which rendered that half inedible for those of us of the human persuasion.

>Patting ourselves on the back for buying the pigs because they, my friends, ate all of those previously nibbled sweet potatoes after a careful trimming by us. In the end, we will eat that produce one way or another!

>Processing bushel after bushel of apples from our local apple orchard. Juice, applesauce and apple butter, oh my!

>Watching Kevin’s first go at hard apple cider bubble away upon the kitchen counter…teasing us!

>Searching for a local provider of organically grown pears and striking out.

>Desperate for those pears because I whipped up a delicious dessert this week and I need to tweak it so I can share it here.

>Finding others around us who are striving to live the way we are and feeling comfort in the fact that there are kindred spirits “nearby”.

>Considering adding a breeding flock of heritage breed turkeys to our motley mix of livestock.

>Contemplating other heating sources to use in the house, in order to alleviate our dependence on oil. I personally wish for a woodstove to sit beside and knit (or just create in general) at.

>Composting, plowing up and preparing to plant next springs garlic plot.

>Using the last of the previous years venison just as opening day of bow season arrived.

>Sending the hunters out with high hopes, feeling like it is still too early to expect any venison to be coming back in with them.

>Remembering that we have to stop at the local sugar house (who also happens to be a neighbor) to stock up on maple syrup since we’re almost out.

>Walking around our little bit of woods thinking that we should mark our own sugar maples and try our hand at tapping them this winter, just for fun.

>Savoring the last warm weather days that are sprinkled throughout fall, while also looking forward to the coming winters activities.

>Working hard at re-instituting a family rhythm that allows us to feel connected and grounded during these busy days we are now living.

>Feeling the pull of our quiet, winter routine and looking forward to attending to indoor activities that desperately need to be done. As well as, giving time to each of our individual creative outlets that we have missed so much during this busy summer and fall.

What is new and exciting in your neck of the woods?

The weekend

The storm rolling in.

Is there really ever a weekend when you live on a farm? Certainly not in the sense of two days off at the end of your work week, but on the other hand, we never suffer from a case of the “Mondays”, so there’s that! The past two days here have been low on productivity with Saturdays highs reaching the mid 90’s and the heat index reaching well into the 100’s (not feasible with two babes that must follow us everywhere.) Sunday brought a, much needed, downpour that chased us all inside.¬†

The view out of our kitchen window.

We did manage to move the mobile chicken coop to a new swath of pasture, which ended up taking two extra people and two extra hours and ended in us darting for the house before the sky opened up. Because really, who wants to be handling electronet fencing in a thunderstorm? It is all quite hilarious looking back on it now, possibly even post worthy. I also harvested some produce, the most notable being 2 pounds of beans destined for pickling and was able to put up 8 jars of pesto. Outside of those accomplishments, and the usual daily chores, nothing else got done.

Waiting for a trim and pickling.

It has also been hard getting back into the swing of things after being away for 4 days. Upon arriving home, it seemed as if, the only thing that had grown were the weeds and I think we are both struggling with being extremely overwhelmed by how far behind we feel. So in that vein, and to please my Type A personality, here is our “To Do” list for the upcoming week:

  1. Make and can Dilly Beans.
  2. Weed herb garden.
  3. Harvest some lemon balm, parsley, basil, cilantro, sage, thyme, tarragon, and marjoram.
  4. Dry, freeze or otherwise process said herbs.
  5. Weed, weed, and more weeding of vegetable garden. Problem here is, by the time we get done weeding the entire garden the weeds are growing back in where we started.
  6. Create some kind of support for the sweet corn.
  7. Tend slicing and cherry tomatoes – prune, snip, re-tie/support.
  8. Come up with a way to trellis paste tomatoes. These have gotten quite out of hand and we are at a loss for a good way to support them that also allows us to easily harvest the ripe fruit.
  9. Try to train pole beans back onto their respective poles. I have never had a problem with this in the past but this year they just seem to have a mind of their own.
  10. Pick and trim swiss chard.
  11. Freeze what chard we do not use this week.
  12. Pick lettuce, beets, eggplant, peppers, squash, possibly fingerling potatoes.
  13. Weed sweet potatoes.
  14. Plant fall crops. We are kind of late with this but I would like to throw, at least, some peas and spinach in.
  15. Weed asparagus and rhubarb bed.
  16. Fence in pine trees in front pasture and move sheep into said pasture.
  17. Move Lilac out of front pasture, break-up middle pasture and move her into first section.
  18. Move pigs to other end of, what will become, the garlic patch.
  19. Lay down manure to “bake” in sun on the section pigs just rooted.
  20. Muck out chicken coop and lay down new litter for “deep bed method.”
  21. Muck out stalls and big section of barn.
  22. Pick up peaches from local orchard.
  23. Jam, can and freeze peaches.
  24. Pick rest of boysenberries off bush by barn and process.
  25. Name lambs and send in registration for all sheep.
  26. Find a Ram that fits all of our criteria and set up a plan for getting him here by October 1st, to use for breeding in November.
  27. Order hive and have beekeeper relocate the bees that have taken up residence in barn wall.
  28. Place grass-fed beef order for winter. Hopefully this will be the last time and next year we will be running our own steers.
  29. Go over budget and accounting for farm books.
  30. Work out plan for winter food storage.

Well, what do you think? Can we get it all done by next Sunday night? What is on your “To Do” list this week?