Friday’s Flock – The Mighty Ox & How NOT to Handle Mucking the Sheep Pen

The Mighty Ox

 

I always wanted a pony growing up. I’m a good rider, and I trained hunter/jumper. I’m also good at using a horse to round up, drive, and cut cattle. I was never horse obsessed, but I was definitely horsey. So, I was excited to get my first horse. Then I was relieved to rehome her. Living with a horse and riding a retired champion are very different experiences. Somehow I expect them to act more like cattle.

So, when Bossy had a calf in 2016 I decided we needed an ox. Duke just isn’t cut out for life as a riding ox. He knows every command, he loves to do what you tell him. But, he’s a hot mess on his top line with a shark fin down his back. If you’re looking for a year old Jersey to pull, I have a deal for you!

So, a few months ago I decided to train Asset as an ox. He’s my little bottle mini Jersey. He has always looked and acted more like a little doe than a steer. He isn’t especially bright either, but he’s sweet, calm, loves me, and has a smooth back. He just can’t figure out right from left.

A few weeks ago we were walking through the woods. He heard a squirrel in the bushes and jumped between me and the bush, pawing in a challenge.  Yeah. That’s my boy and his heart of gold. He’ll never be big and strong, but he’s my mighty ox.


Mucking 

Oh mucking! It’s the great challenge of keeping animals in a barn. Be it horses, cattle, ducks, geese, chickens, or chinchillas, somehow all that wonderful fertilizer has to get out of the barn an be transformed into usable compost. I use composted manure in my garden. It makes gorgeous, healthy, disease and bug resistant plants. People say my tomatoes are excellent. I tell them to thank the sheep.

Like many homesteaders I own all most every Joel Salitan book written. He has some wonderful ideas. One idea is to let everything stay in the barn until spring and muck it out in with a tractor or skidder. The hay and the flock’s deposits are supposed to break down into beautiful compost. I don’t have a tractor or skidder. I think that was my first mistake.

The second was thinking my gang of mutannous hooligans would actually eat their hay instead of pulling it out and using it as bum fodder. In Joel’s defense we do have some gorgeous compost absolutely. However, the day I realized my head was even with the barn loft, I decided to abandon ship.

Now, you’d think I would just get in there with the shovel and rakes and the truck and be done. After all, it’s only twelve sheep, not one hundred. After three hours and several truckloads the pen floor is now three inches lower. Yep, one inch an hour. Keep in mind it usually takes me five minutes to rake out the pen daily. Five minutes of raking versus an hour of heavy shoveling. This definitely did not save time, energy, or my neck.

So, for now I’m back to raking out the top layer of bedding everyday and spending an hour or two every week hauling compost to the garden. I expect to be dug out by summer – just in time to haul bags of gorgeous, clean compost to the farmer’s market.

In all you do, craft no harm

Moriah

Sunday’s Sassy Stitch and Spin: Busy as a Beaver 

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We are blessed with an abundance of wildlife here at Serenity. We regularly see deer in the woods, squirrels, the occasional coyote and timber wolf, turkeys, herons, song birds, hawks, and even bald eagles. We have a possum living under our house named Otis. However, living on the creek we get to enjoy the engineering marvels of the American Beaver. This year they’re living almost in the front yard. So, in addition to the regular work, knitting, spinning, sewing, and celebrating holidays, we’re wrapping trees in chicken wire. Even as pest like as these overgrown rats are, it’s difficult not to admire their industry and ingenuity.

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One of our trees wrapped in chicken wire. We’re trying to preserve our big tree, some of which have tops as big as the house!

On the Wheel

I enjoy spinning roving, real traditional hand combed roving, not processed top being sold as roving. However, spending hours with my Viking combs can get exhausting. My arms get quite the workout daily mucking stalls and hauling hay, so by the end of an hour combing my shoulders are aching loudly.

What’s my solution when I’m craving a true worsted yarn and farm chores are heavy? Lock spinning straight from the fleece. That’s correct. Part of Daisy’s fleece is slated for spinning with no processing beyond a good wash out in hot water and some flick carding on the ends.

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This method is not suitable for short fleeces by a long shot. I’ve actually flick carded the tips on fleeces with a one inch staple. It was tedious to say the least. But Daisy has gorgeous five to six inch locks, and a perfect Romney lock structure. This spinning is gift spinning, and I’m planning on featuring the technique and dyeing the first Winding up Wednesday in January. In the mean time, some of Daisy’s mom’s locks are headed to the Etsy store.

Off the Wheel 

Somehow I managed to finish up both Oatmeal Girl and Jackie this week. It was definitely a challenge. Overall, I’m pleased with both spins. Unfortunately, I didn’t get Jackie’s fleece spun in time to continue knitting the Sacre Couer shawl. I’ll finish washing out the yarn this week,  and hopefully my newest blanket will go on the loom the first week in January.

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Jackie in front and Oatmeal Girl in the back. Jackie is the lightest grey I’ve ever seen.

 

On the Needles

The Sacre Couer shawl is still on my needles this week. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have time to work on it last week. But, finishing it up is my main goal this week. I have decided to put beads on it. I’m considering some shiny silver beads, or maybe black. It really depends on what Walmart has in stock. One of the trade offs for living in a small town is that Walmart is the only craft store. But, hey, we’re getting a Burger King and a fourth traffic light! Oh, and there’s still a hitching post at Walmart. So, at least our Walmart is cool that way.

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Sacre Couer Shawl – Finally all the yarn made!

Out of the Dye Pot 

Speaking of Daisy early,  I dyed some of her Mother’s locks this week. They’ll go in the Etsy shop this evening. I used food dye for this project. I’m beyond pleased with the results.

I dyed these in the microwave. I’m slightly suspicious of microwaved food, and microwaved locks sounded a bit far fetched. However, microwaving locks is my new addiction! They turn out so well.

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Round Up

Hopefully, the beavers won’t keep me too busy this week, and I’ll be as busy as they are this coming week in my studio. With the New Year approaching my mind is thinking ahead to planning new projects. Many are as ambitious as my creek dwelling neighbors. However, I suspect I’ll never be as single minded as our busy beavers.

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The hut is actually under that tree in the creek bank, but they have an impressive pile of food.

In all you do, craft no harm.

Moriah

Friday’s Flock: Drenching  

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Welcome to our first installment of Friday’s Flock. If you’re here for weekly stories about the animals you’ll love the first segment each week, and if you’re squeemish you might want to skip the second segment. If you’re into the animal care and vet information you’ll find that in the second segment. This week’s topic is drenching.

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Lambi’s Boy Broccoli

The Comforter

This past February I lost my first pet lamb. I was inconsolable. This sheep was a bit mad, got into all sorts of trouble, and had no fear of water. She was more dog like than sheep like, and we adored each other. Whatever I was doing,  Lambi was in the middle of it. She loved looking under the hood of my truck as much as she loved taking a ride with the windows down. She could flat out run, and even when she was pregnant we’d have races, and I’d loose every time. If I clapped my hands and chanted “Lambi dance” she’d stomp her foot, Bob her head and start bucking in place. She’d even get into the creek with us. I loved my Lambi.

Lambi’s last lamb, Broccoli, now lives with us as a pet. He’s not quite as crazy as his mother, but he is so much like her in some ways. The hair sheep genetics came out in him and his fleece is nothing but short fuzz that even I think might be unworkable. But he’s Lambi’s boy, and holds a very special place in my heart.

Tuesday evening I was looking over the flock and giving out chin scratches when Broccoli came over for his nightly affection. He’s like his Grandfather Charlemagne Bolivar that way, gentle and sweet. However, he doesn’t like his chin scratched. He likes his entire neck and chest scratched. I petted him for a while and then turned my attention to Black Iris who was patiently waiting for his hug. Broccoli had a Lambi moment, stomped his foot and bucked his head. I laughed and returned my attention back to Iris. Then Broccoli did something he’s never done before but his mother did routinely: he made a sweet bleat and put his muzzle to my face. I started crying and hugged him.

As sweet of story as that is, what happened next really touched me. From across the pen Orion came over, and laid his head over on me and bleated in conversational manner. I’ve watched Orion settle difference in the flock and escort a lost lamb to its momma many times. Whenever one of the sheep seems upset it’s always Orion who sees to them. However, he’s not one for human contact. I pulled Orion into a little group hug with Broccoli. We stayed there for a moment, and then Lilac decided she was next for her nightly attention. Orion, our brute, is also our comforter. I feel privileged to be considered part of his flock. When I visited the next day and every day since, he has wanted a chin scratch.

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Drenching 

Drenching is the most common way to administer dewormer to sheep. Around here we only deworm when necessary. I prefer the FAMACHA system coupled with fecal testing. The FAMACHA SYSTEM involves pull the eye lids down and checking the mucus membranes every two to four weeks.  This is something you really need to learn from your vet, because if done incorrectly it can hurt your sheep. However, it is the cheapest way to keep an eye on the more distructive worm population in your flock. We have the vet check samples twice a year in late spring and late fall. No worms, no drenching. Pretty simple system.

I’m fortunate that most of the flock are primitive breeds or crosses. They tend to have a higher resistance to worms and diseases overall. We usually drench once a year in late fall or early winter.

Worms can kill a flock, especially pregnant ewes and lambs. They cause anemia. Wire worms, round worms, and hook worms are typically the most distructive. For what ever reason tapes dont bother the sheep too much,  but I do worm for tapes as well since we have cats and dogs on the property. Oh, yeah, and humans.

Drenching really isn’t difficult when you have a willing participant. However, an unwilling sheep can be difficult. Please remember that sheep have teeth, and those teeth can cause cuts deep enough to require stitches. Some people use a drenching gun. They are handy, but with only twelve fairly tame sheep I still opt for a syringe. Also, carefully read the medication instructions and figure out the math before catching the first ewe.

The first step is to corral the sheep. Do not try this in the open pasture. The second step is to put the bottle of dewormer and the syringes in your pocket. Third is to catch the sheep. This step gets more difficult as the drenching goes, and if you’re looking for a great high intensity workout, this may be just your thing.

Now that you’ve caught your sheep, straddle her. Skirts are actually helpful in this case. They keep the sheep from backing out from between your legs. Otherwise, welcome to the real thigh master workout. While holding the sheep firmly between your knees pull up the correct amount of dewormer into the syringe and then put the bottle back into your pocket. Here’s the dangerous part, well, outside of catching them or getting kicked. Carefully slide your thumb between the front teeth and the molars while holding the lower jaw firmly. Your sheep will grudgingly open her mouth just enough to get the syringe in while shaking her head. Now, push down the plunger without letting her spit everything out or letting go of the syringe. Finally, let go of the sheep,  and repeat as needed.

To set up your own drenching schedule, make sure you consult a good farm vet who is knowledgeable about sheep and the parasite load in your area. There are organic methods for parasite treatment, and breeding parasite resistance into a flock works better than treating over the long term.  However, if you are not interested in breeding, internal parasite treatment is key to sound flock management.

Next week the flock is slated for their biyearly checkup and dagging to prevent over winter fly strike. Until then,

In all you do, craft no harm.

Moriah and the Flock

The Story of Kind Fibers and Serenity 

Sunrise over Serenity

It’s five thirty in the morning here in Middle Tennessee just a few miles from the Kentucky border. All is quiet except for the occasional chitchat from our resident geese and roosters. The hens will have a proper chin wag later when they start laying eggs. The cats are still curled up sleeping, and Pate, our guardian, sits looking out from the barn entrance across the fields for any danger to her slumbering sheep.

Kang and his hens

Five years ago this morning I was laying in bed in my Bellevue, Tennessee townhouse fighting for my life. Until just a few weeks before I worked in HR at one of the largest companies in the world. I was a woman intent on moving up the money ladder, even though I secretly resented my job and felt trapped by my education. I reminded myself constantly that as a privileged middle class young woman it was my duty to feel grateful and give back to society. Not only did I work a stressful job, I volunteered, I was active in my synagogue, and I spent time with friends. I was Wonder Woman. And then Wonder Woman collapsed from the disseminated TB she picked up doing good while in South America. I never went back to my job. My job was transferred to Texas and most of my department was laid off during my fourteen month recovery. I wasn’t sure what to do.

Me getting ready for Purim. I was a little girl at the circus.

So I decided to marry a guy. That was a disastrous decision. Afterwards I did what any educated, smart, unemployed, recently recovered from a life threatening illness woman would do – I meditated on my childhood dream of becoming a shepherdess and farmer. Two weeks later in May of 2014 a friend’s farm was available. Mom and I went to look at the place, and fell in love. I was scheduled to move in on August fifteenth. What did I do? I called McMurray hatchery and ordered thirty chicks. I built little brooders in my spare bedroom, purchased all the waterers, feed dishes, pine shavings, organic chick starter, and meal worms necessary to raise happy chickens. I raised thirty chickens in my spare bedroom for eight weeks.

Those are ALL full of raw fleeces either for sale in our Etsy shop, or in line for processing

In my other spare bedroom resided fifty pounds of raw wool, spinning wheels, carders, yarn, and knitting projects. Did I mention yet I’m a fiber junkie? From that first spin on a great wheel when I was fourteen Spinning called to me. I discovered knitting in 2006. I wanted REAL yarn, not the man made junk at the big box stores. I went to the Middle Tennessee Fiber Festival one year and bought six raw fleeces. Yes, six. I met Molly from Spring Rock Farms in Westmoreland, TN. We even got to go see the sheep that year, and I bought four more fleeces. The Bakers are an incredible and wonderful family. Molly produces some of the best Jacob Sheep fleeces around. It was also their rental farm I ended up moving to with the thirty eight week old chickens. And the best part? I got to hang out with her impressive flock of rams every day. I fell in love not only with raw fleece to yarn production, but Jacob sheep.

Charlemagne Bolivar as a two year old lamb. He’s super sweet now that he’s tame.

One of those rams became my very first sheep. His name was Dublin, and his father Hopkins was the very first fleece I processed. I renamed Dublin “Charlemagne Bolivar” after the character James Marsters played on Andromeda. The next spring in 2015 I rescued a rejected lamb. She was a hair sheep. I named her Camilla, but she was always my Lambi. In April I aquired two Romney Merino crosses – Dagny and Andromeda. Then in the winter of 2015 I bought Daisy, The Registered Romney. I turned Charlemagne loose with the ladies, and hoped he figured out which end was up. He eventually did.

My sweet baby Lambi and her son Victor.

That same winter Mom and I decided to buy our own farm. It’s in a small cove of land, and being a Joss Whedon fan I decided to play on words and suggested the name Serenity. The name was a hit. In spring of 2016 Lambi had a single ram we thought was a ewe for several weeks. In keeping with the Royal family theme I named her baby Victoria. Well, Victoria was a Victor. Andromeda had a HUGE ram lamb we named Big Jake, and Dagny gave birth to Sade our little Jacob ewe. Daisy the Registered Romney surprised us with Black Iris, Lily, and only one working teat. Lily became a bottle lamb after Daisy rejected her. Shortly after lambing the entire flock with the exception of Charlemagne who I rehomed contracted pasturella. My vet advised me to put down most of the flock and gave me a thirty percent survival rate. They all survived. Then Dagny broke her neck in a freak accident.

Sade, Siggy, Broccoli, Orion, and Mini Minerva

Everyone kept telling me the only way to make a living with sheep is to breed and sell lambs. I wasn’t completely comfortable, but I let Victor be a ram and rehomed Jake to a sanctuary. Unfortunately, Jake was aggressive enough even as a wether he had to put down. It still bothers me. And this is where my life got stressful. Lambi had a kidney disease, made it through a c section, and then died in my arms. My baby now lives in an urn. I ended with two special needs bottle lambs from her. Sade, who we didn’t even know was pregnant surprised us with a ewe Siggy. Daisy had two ewe lambs, Loral and Lilac. She successfully raised them both with help. Then Andromeda had another dramatic delivery of another HUGE ram lamb, and I played midwife again. Then I noticed two little hooves poking out her back end. She didn’t seem to be in labor anymore. So I reached up and pulled out Mini. She weighed less than two pounds and was so short she couldn’t reach Andromeda to nurse. She’s now nine months old and weighs an impressive twenty five pounds. Her brother weighs in at nearly one hundred fifty pounds, and they still have a year of growing.

Broccoli and Brillo Pad as lambs. Broc weighed 2.8 pounds and Brillo weighed 3.6 pounds. They needed 24/7 care.
Orion at three months old. He already weighed close to ninety pounds.

After that lambing season things settled in my heart for good. Breeding sheep, allowing animals to go through suffering for potential profit, it just isn’t in line with my heart. The whole time I had worked with people to find homes for other people’s animals. I supported farm animal rescue, but I listened to the myth that animals are super hardy, and things really don’t go that wrong. Now we don’t breed. If we’re in the position to add a flock member, we take in a rescue. Night is our most resent. She sold for fifty dollars, and is another registered Romney. She had a prolapse and rejected her lambs, but her fleece is still beautiful.

Night after she put on some weight and was treated for a serious worm infestation

That’s also how Kind Fibers came about. I am convinced that there is a way to enjoy REAL yarn, and be kind to the animals who so graciously produce such wonderful fibers. My journey as a shepherdess also changed me. Kindness is not just what we do. When we embrace kindness we become kind to ourselves as well as others. We begin to see who we really are inside, and we change. We become people of integrity, character, and ethics. We become authentic and our relationships with others deepen. We find what was missing. Will knitting, spinning, and a motley crew of sheep change the world? I don’t know.  But it has certainly changed mine.

Be Well and at Peace,

Moriah