Sheep

Weaning, a whole new meaning

Weaning, a whole new meaning

Last year we brought my dear mother here to the farm from a nursing home.  We knew her time was short. We knew she would want to be surrounded by her loved ones.  As we approach the anniversary of her arrival here and her passing and another year of weaning our lambs from their mommas,  I felt the desire to share something that happened during her time here.

On July 28th, the day before she passed, John and I were weaning the lambs from their mothers. The window of my mothers room looked out over the pasture where we were.  In the process, I looked up (my heart and mind during those days were never far from her)  toward her room.  I couldn't help but feel the magnitude of what we were doing...separating the babes from their mamas.   

To WEAN: accustom (an infant or other young mammal) to food other than its mother's milk.  accustom (someone) to managing without something on which they have become dependent or of which they have become excessively fond.

 We knew my mother was shutting down and that it wouldn't be long.  At this moment I felt the arms of mother nature comforting me.  Yes, it brought tears but in that moment I felt my mother communicating with me through nature as if to say, it is a fact in life, it is real,  and it is happening.  Sooner or later we must say good bye.

This year will be no easier then it ever has for us.  We don't like separating them and for several years we didn't.  What we observed is that the mothers will drop from exhaustion trying to feed their babes and combat the heat 

To Wean or not to Wean

Observing a mother and her new born is a heavenly site.  We respond  based purely on emotions,  whether we've actually "mothered" or not.   At the moment you lay your eyes on this site all the world around is a blur and all that matters is the true love that halos around them.  It is such a pure connection that under no circumstances one should want to come between them, right?

 

A lot of the methods used in sheep farming  are about "management" of the flock.  The larger the number your trying to manage the harder it is to keep "order".  Orderliness becomes a goal for efficiency.  Efficiency adds to profits.  Follow me?  This is a slippery slope.

Weaning is one of those "management" tools.  According to reference books,  lambs should be removed from their mothers at 8-10 weeks old.  The reasons are mainly that the needs of the lambs for maximum market potential are different then the mamma's.    Growth of the lambs requires richer, higher protein grasses or grains which the mamma's don't need.  The only way to accomplish such a task is to separate them.  The other argument we found (didn't read it in a reference book) to support weaning  is the mothers will give and give until they are basically spent.  We find the heat of the summer, coupled with the very selfless nature of mom's takes everything out of them and begins to compromise their own health.

For these reasons one might wean.  

 

Wean:accustom (someone) to managing without something on which they have become dependent or of which they have become excessively fond.

 

Now that I've given you a bit of knowledge about weaning I'd like to share our journey with this decision.

We began this farm knowing we would make choices about the care of our animals based on our experiences, not just because everyone said so. Many topics of care and handling were researched and we found enough disparaging information that we felt strongly our decision to observe first was a worthy one.

Many of our farming practices were established by observing,  educating ourselves, then we'd established our way.  Weaning the lambs was one really challenging task.  Now 8 years later, after going back and forth, this year, we're not weaning again.  The first three years we didn't wean.  I wish I could tell you why we decided to wean the 4th year but I'm betting we succumb to the "text" book ways.  Most other shepherds around us weaned which made us question our decision even more.  Our farm was growing and as often happens after you've immersed yourself in something you loose some of your "curiosity" or better yet, the luxury of time to remember to be curious and ask questions.

So, we spent a few years weaning.  It is a very difficult task, not physically challenging, just heartbreaking really.  They cry and baa for easily 48 hours.  The mothers also.  Eventually they all settle in but gosh it never felt right.  As often I'm guided on this farm, if it goes against nature my heart cannot find peace with it...this is one of those lessons.  

With most industrial farming models, maximum growth of the lambs became the  shepherds primary goal in order to get those lambs to market fast and efficiently.  Is fast and efficient our ultimate goal.  Those that know this farm know our answer to this question is NO.  We strongly believe you sacrifice so much in order to achieve those fast/efficient goals.  It is this very reason that so many breeds of livestock are in danger of being lost for good...they don't meet these industrial models!

In summary, we've have some of the best looking, healthiest lambs ever, happily growing on mothers milk...there must have been some divine wisdom in that!

 

 


What I know now....


Before I begin the real content of this post I want to dedicate this to a couple that came to our farmers market booth last week-end.  I had the perfect opportunity and a willing audience and so the discussion began.  They were looking through our coolers for some lamb.  As it happens from time to time, she looked up at me and said, 
"how can you do it?" 

here it comes, get ready for it, the predictable yet perplexing comment..........

"I could never eat an animal I raised."

Before farming,  I never really thought about how food got to our local grocery stores.  Through that  plastic wrapping at our local SUPER market I felt confident I had enough experience to spot freshness, what else should matter?  




Now, as a farmer growing sheep, pastures, eggs (no worries, I'm not laying eggs), and vegi's I have a whole new perspective.   I truly didn't have any idea what was involved. I didn't have to know how the food got to me,  the choices were provided and available to me and I knew no other options. 

 My bet is many of you can relate.

 I remember once my family was in England for the holidays and we decided on prime rib for our Christmas dinner. We went to a local butcher because that's often the way they still do things in England.  He presented Bessie, photos; family photos, and all. The butcher and his family loved Bessie. Needless to say I couldn't eat Christmas dinner.  



If I knew then what I know now! 

Through my journey I have concluded, we as consumers are so disconnected from the whole dang process.


 Every time we take a few lambs to the arbitrator to be processed, we shed a tear, we hold hands and say a prayer, then we bless them ...it never gets easier.

I have really wrestled with this.  I've contemplated my options. We could stop raising lamb and I could become a vegetarian. For a variety of personal reasons I won't go into, vegetarianism isn't for me.  So, what would I do if I stopped processing our lambs because it was difficult?  If I didn't give up meat would I go into the grocery like most of America and buy those hermetically sealed packages of meat from animals pushed through a food chain living uneventful lives with no tenderness or compassion for their uniqueness on this earth?  

This is an example of where most grocery store meat comes from.


It would certainly have been easier to do.  

And that... would be so hypocritical.


If folks had to engage in the process there would be a much greater respect for the animals and the food on their tables.

If folks would engage in the process or at least be aware, they couldn't eat meat raised in the horrible conditions so many are raised in.  

If folks would engage in the process and be aware, fewer people would be eating meat.

In our house, if we are going to consume meat/fish it will be humanely raised which I also believe is difficult (not impossible) to do if not from a small farm and definitely not from a factory farm. 

Because of our new found respect for meat and how it gets to our tables, we don't eat a lot of it.  
When we do eat meat it is only from healthy happy animals and farms that strive for that.  Yes, it's more expensive and that is part of the reason why we eat less.


Regarding the interaction with the customers last week-end, I followed up her comment sharing the content of this soon to be realized blog, in a few less sentences of course.  They were so thankful that I shared the experience.  I truly believe they will be more respectful of the process.

I want to thank them for reminding me there are people out there that want to know....




Who's the boss?

Farm animals are portrayed to most people through children's books.  We all have an image of what they each should look like, usually cute and huggable right?  You'd be surprised how many folks know what a lamb is but don't know what a sheep is.  Many don't have a clue that a lamb is a baby sheep.


There is a lot about sheep folks don't know.  For one, did you know there are over 200 different breeds of sheep worldwide.  The difference can be dramatic.  Some sheep have wool, some don't.  Some sheep have horns, some don't.  Some sheep have no horns, some have 2 horns, some have 4.

Wild looking you say?



  This is a perfect example of the 4 horned genetics in the breed we raise, the Navajo Churro.  The 4 horn genetics are not unique to the Navajo Churro. There are other breeds that carry the gene.



What has fascinated us about these sheep with 4 horns is watching their personality develop.  
They must navigate their way a bit differently.  
They are different then the other sheep.
It's almost as if as wee ones they have a special crown on their heads and they know not why. Eventually they grow into them and understand and respect them.

The horns are so dramatic and cannot be ignored by you or the other sheep.    
We've concluded by observing these guys early on in their life, 

...they learn to own these horns. 


I wonder, is there a message from mother nature?

It has been said, it's our very differences that make us stronger.


As we prepare for our new lamb crop this year we feel sure we will welcome at least one ram lamb with four horns.

As a final note of interest I read somewhere that the Navajo culture prized the multi-horn sheep as a spiritual gift, while the South American cultures believed them to be a "devil" spirit and eliminated them from a flock.  

DIY Wool Dryer Balls




On this farm, we raise sheep. 

You'd never know from my blogs that we raise sheep, would you?  I write about farming and such and occasionally show pictures of our sheep.  I do talk about farming chores but I haven't spoken of wool, our wool specifically, the many attributes of wool in general, or the many fun and useful things you can do with it.

I think I'm way over due for a blog about wool, don't you?

I have pondered and pondered the topic of wool.  Where to begin?  I've thought about the many phases and facts regarding wool.   I get so overwhelmed with the possibilities for a blog that I put the idea away thinking I'll get back to it another day.  I read a post about knitting from a friend over on Google+ ,  Lynne Knowlton. As Lynne described getting out those knitting needles again I was quickly reminded it's the very basic stuff that folks would enjoy. 

It hit me, yes, let's make    wool dryer balls!

Stoney Mountain Farm Wool Dryer Balls

What the heck are wool dryer balls you ask?


Well they're just the coolest laundry alternative out there, of course and I am biased!

wool dryer balls:
....replacing those chemical laden dryer sheets, one household at a time ... we should all be happy about that.  


This is not intended to be an ad so please don't be offended if I send you to our website for more details about the many benefits of wool dryer balls.  Here, we're going to roll our sleeves up and make our very own felted wool balls.

If your not inclined to use them as a laundry alternative they make great pet toys, juggling balls, pin cushions, and even the base for more felting projects.   I even have one customer that adorns her home with bowls of these natural felted balls of wool, quite nicely too.

So, take this project as a crafty one...that is the intent after all!


Grey wool roving

I am going to show you how to make them...the best way!  There are alot of folks making them out of yarn and that's fine but they won't last as long.  We're going to make them from wool roving.  Roving is the wool, after it has been washed and carded.  Roving is the stage just prior to spinning the carded wool into yarn.

Maybe you have a stash of yarn on hand you'd like to use?  Whether yarn or roving, the process we are about to engage in is felting.

For this project all you will need is:

  1. wool,  I would suggest 2 ounces of roving for each ball, totaling 6 ounces. I would also suggest you make 3 wool dryer balls as the desired affects from the wool balls require a minimum of 3.  You can purchase roving from a variety of craft stores, our farm, our shop on Etsy or many others, and many other places.  I would encourage you to buy it from a farmer or someone that knows the source of the wool and how it is handled..  Like food, wool is being treated in ways you would find criminal...at least I hope you would.  Do you know 80% of the wool grown in this country is being sent to China for processing because the chemical restrictions are lighter there?  The wool then returns to you, the unsuspecting buyer.  On our farm we only send our wool to U.S. mills that do not use chemicals in any stage of the process...that's hard to find. If you want colorful wool dryer balls you can find roving that has been dyed.  We don't use any chemicals or dyes on our wool...just au naturale,  only the shades of the sheep.
  2. a sock, either mens cotton tube sock or a womens trouser sock will work
  3. rubber bands
  4. washer& dryer
  5. laundry soap
Lets Begin:

First, divide your roving into 2 ounce sections.  Don't be afraid to pull the roving apart.   We are going to roll each 2 ounce portion of roving into a ball.  If you are using yarn, the process is the same.   If your roving tears, do not fret, just pick up the next piece and keep going.
As you roll the roving be careful to always keep a round shape.  If your "ball" gets lopsided you need to focus on the underdeveloped side.  You want the ball to be taut but not tight.  Do not be afraid.  Regardless, you will have a felted ball at the end of this process.

Just keep rolling until the full 2 ounces of wool roving is used.  Round and round, trying to keep the roving from twisting as you roll.
You will want to feed the end back through your final pass.  If you are familiar with needle felting this is where you would felt the end down therefore leaving a smoother edge.

Now, your ball is ready to place in the sock.  Sometimes I put my hand in the sock first and grab the wool ball with my sock covered hand, then pulling the sock over the ball.  Tie off the sock with a knot or the rubber band,  Repeat the process until your sock is full with the 3 balls.

Now, place the sock in the washing machine in a hot soapy cycle.  Remove the sock from  the washer and run them through a dry cycle.

Remove them from the sock.

Voila!
your very own wool balls....

So easy!  

You'll be so impressed with the ease and quality of your results,  you may just become a wool junkie!


Ready to try some felting?



Let the New Year Begin

Another fabulous holiday moved to memories!  Another beautiful tree down and all the bits of Christmas to be packed away until the next year.  I adore the holidays so its always difficult to take it all down and pack it all away.  I felt this years tree was especially beautiful.  As I began the process of undressing the tree, winding up all the lights, removing all the adornments from all the corners,  I told my husband how sad I was.  His reply, "you always say that"!  There you have it, drama over!

 So, if you are feeling the emotional pull of the holiday past and have no outlet worthy of your drama,  just think forward to the year ahead...that's what I did.


What are New Years resolutions all about anyway?  A new year, new start?  Organization?  Planning?  Goals?  I imagine all the above would be considered sound reasoning.


According to Wikipedia a 2007 a study about new years resolutions involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study's participants were confident of success at the beginning. Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, (a system where small measurable goals are being set; such as, a pound a week, instead of saying "lose weight"), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.

I have always been a big new years resolution gal.  I haven't had much success with them but each and every year I proclaim a few more.  I proclaim I will clean more, eat less, work harder, exercise more, be more grateful...it's a wonder I have time for everyday living.  Truth is, as the year moves forward, everyday living kicks in and all those grandiose plans are forgotten...at least until the next new year.

We set out each year planning for our farm too.  We have the same goal setting approach but try to be a bit less casual about the results, it is our livelihood after all.  In the business environment it's referred to as forecasting.



                       Forecasting is the process of making statements about events whose actual 
                        outcomes (typically) have not yet been observed....wikipedia

Sounds like "resolutions" to me


In 2014 we plan to grow our flock.  Calling it resolutions or forecasting matters not,  our motivations are the same. We established a goal, based on previous results.  We simply recognized that demand exceeds supply.  We did some forecasting and set a goal.  Our goal was achievable because our farm, our acreage to be exact, can support more sheep.  





At the core of our mission, always, is to raise healthy happy animals and that means providing the proper conditions. Plain and simple, there needs to be enough good quality grass for the number of sheep.  

Our goal:doable! 

Truth is each year on the farm we make lots of plans.  We plan not to have any noxious weeds in our pasture, each year we do.  Each year we plan not to loose sheep, each year we do.  

Each year I am made very aware that we are not in control here.  Each year I am reminded, no matter our desired outcome, mother nature will preside over the results.  

Whether in our personal lives or our businesses, we set each new year in motion hoping to create some modem of control, yet it is not to be....

Maybe if we were willing to recognize there are influences beyond our imagination we would be more inclined to tolerate different outcomes to our goals?