Tuesday, October 29, 2019

And the Seasons, They Go 'Round-an-'Round...

Buddha-cat keeps my neck warm these
frosty mornings
Fall Greetings from Havencroft Farm
 We are modern homesteaders, small holders, shepherds, and crafts people. We pay our electric bill, use the internet, drive our cars to our jobs, and store food in our refrigerator. But, we are still tied to the seasons  of the Earth. 
It's fall now, and we've had a few frosts. The garden is tucked in for the winter and the green tomatoes are sitting on the counter ripening for a few last summer-type dinners. The cats are looking for laps.
East Richwoods Nutmeg, our Alpine dairy
goat buck knows he's beautiful.
Fall is goat and sheep breeding season.
Having seasonal polyestrous animals
helps cement the cycle of the year.
It's sheep and goat breeding time. I breed the dairy goats first, so we have a supply of milk in case we have any bottle baby lambs or angora goat kids. Knock on wood, we won't, but best to be safe. At this point, the dairy goats are all confirmed bred and the breeding sheep are in with the rams. I got a new angora buck goat kid this year, Whisper Hills Oberon. He may or may not be ready to work, but he lives with the girls, and if they figure it out it's a bonus. Kid mohair is my favorite fiber.
Gibbs dog prefers to hang out in the
studio on now that mornings are cooler.

I spin and weave year-around, but I really seem to tuck into it in the fall. That's when I pull out my dyepots and make all the pretty colors for my yarns. We have our two annual shows in September and December, so much of my production schedule is geared around those.

My dad and my grandbaby Zo.

Now that we have a grandbaby in the family, it's another cue of the flow of life and the circle of time. I am luck to have both my parents and they dote on little Zo, who will not be little for long. Luckily human babies don't grow as fast as the sheep and goat kids!

In addition to farming, shepherding, spinning, weaving, and working full time, I am in the process of finishing out my bachelor's degree. I hope to graduate in May of 2020. One of the lesson I've learned is to be ok with my own schedule and my own cycle. My early 20's was my time to experience and explore, now is my time to put it all together into a formal credential. So, while I do seem to write more here in the winter (maybe it's because I'm inside more, or not at work quite as many hours!) it may be a while before I post regularly. In the meantime, if you've found our Havencroft Farm through this blog and are interested in the happenings here in the rural Ozarks, take a look at our Havencroft Farrm Facebook page. If you're looking for brooms or shawls or our other products, try our Havencroft Farm Etsy Store.

And, if you're just interested in a glimpse of our homesteading journey, scroll back through the archives here. Every once in a while I enjoy going back through this blog and remembering seasons past and the joy of the journey to today. Happy Fall 2019!

Harvest moon over the barn & good
brown dirt resting for the 2020 garden.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Dryer Balls - or gnome bait?

This batch of dryer balls is made from HCF Kachina's fleece.

Off and on over many years, my family has made wool felt balls. When the kids were little, they were toys (medieval nerf balls we called'm). Then we made them for kitties with catnip centers and for dogs to try to teach them to play that game called "fetch." Lena's Gibbs dog loves to fetch the harder ones that bounce.

A couple years ago I read an article in Mary Jane's Farm magazine about using wool felt balls as dryer balls. You just pop a few of the wool felt balls that we always have around the house into the dryer and they cut down on the time it takes to dry clothes and take the static out. We tried it, and they do work that way. We also found they have a far more important function in the dryer.

Dryer gnomes love felt balls! They will happily trade a felt ball for one, or even two of your socks that they have been hording. And if you give them dryer balls, they will quit taking your favorite wash cloths. They sometimes even trade an especially nice dryer ball for one of my tie-dyed tea towels that they do so love to steal.

I have no idea where they take them, any more than I have any idea where missing pens go. But I do think the parallel universe must be a pretty, fun place. And I bet dryer gnomes never have cold feet.

All the dryer balls I make now are from our sheep's fleeces. This latest batch is from Kachina's wool. Some of them come out firm like a tennis ball, others are more squishy. We make them in the natural colors of our jacob sheep's wool. They are 100% Jacob Sheep wool. No fillers or inserts.

Monday, February 18, 2019

How to Finish Your Triloom Woven Shawl

The last weaving pass is run, the center yarn is clipped and your shawl is done! Yippee!

Oh yeah, the weaving is done, now there's the finishing. 

How do you go from that triangle shaped weaving on the wall to the beautiful, drapey, shawl to wrap around your shoulders?

Follow along on the pictures below, and if you have any questions, you can contact me via messenger from our Havencroft Farm Homestead Facebook page.

The weaving is done! This is a twill/tabby combo pattern done with 100% Havencroft Farm grown Jacob sheep wool (Patchwork Cowboy and Havencroft Lauren's fleeces) processed into yarn at Yampa Valley Fiberworks and hand-dyed by me.)

Pretty as it looks from a distance, there are still some spacing issues that need fixing.

Spend time lining up yarns with your trusty weaving comb. (Not to recommend Walmart, but this is the comb I use.)

Once your weaving is all evened-up to your liking, crochet off the top. This shawl is not fringed, so the color changes are along the top. I'll weave those in later. The chain I use to take a shawl off the loom is; pull the corner loop of the shawl onto your hook; pull a loop of your finishing color through that loop; pull the next shawl loop off the nail and through the loop on the hook; pull another loop of finishing yarn through that loop; and all the way across, shawl loop, yarn loop. You should only ever have one loop on your hook. You can see the pattern in the picture above. At the end of the top edge of the shawl, pull up your last loop, cut the thread in the middle and pull it back through, then knot the starting thread for the shawl and the ending thread of the finishing yarn together.

The top edge is crocheted off the loom. Now to lift the bottom two edges.

Just gently lift the yarn off the pegs, or nails, starting at the bottom corner.

This shawl is now attached to the loom only at the top two corners. This is where you can see floats or any other issues that may need to be fixed by stitching them in. 

Take off the finished shawl, hang up your loom and start the next shawl. I always put the next shawl on the loom right after I pull the shawl I'm finishing off. I've planned it while weaving the last one, and I'm eager to get started on it, plus I hate seeing a naked loom!

I weave in all the color join ends with a crochet hook. Some people use a yarn needle. What ever works for you. I take out the knot that I used to join the colors (why I knot the joins loosly), make sure the yarns are crossed over so there are no awkward holes at the top of the shawl, and tuck the ends in, weaving them down their own color run.

Some shawls I crochet a decorative border, and strenghthener on the top, other shawls don't seem to need it. This one needed a bit of straightening on the top edge, which is provided by the crochet border.

Once you are happy with your finishing on the shawl, it's time to wash it. This "wet-finishes" the shawl, allows the yarns to bloom and meld together and sets it as one garment, instead of a lot of woven yarn. It also assures me that the piece does not have any flaws that I missed in the planning or weaving. Hand wash, gently in cool water with wool safe soap. I do the same - lather, rinse, repeat that I do to wash most things. Make sure you fill the basin first and dissolve the soap before adding your garment. Take the garment out to drain while you rinse the basin and prepare the next water bath.

After washing and rinsing, roll your shawl up in a towel and gently squeeze out the excess water. 
Lay your shawl flat and shape it how you want it to dry. I put a king sized sheet over a few towels on our queen sized bed to block my shawls. It's a big enough space, and the door is closed to our bedroom, so it is a cat-free zone, too.

Give it a bit to dry and then wear your beautiful new shawl. This particular shawl is for a friend, if you want to see a picture of her wearing it (give me a few days to get it delivered!) visit our Havencroft Farm Homestead Facebook page.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What to keep in your kidding or lambing kit

Havencroft Kachina had these adorable twin ewes by Havencroft Neptune. The new barn gives us a great set up for jug pens to give mom and babies a safe place to bond .
 It's the beginning of lambing and kidding time here in the Ozarks on Havencroft Farm. That means it's time to keep the "midwifery" kit hanging by the door so we're ready to help when needed.

I've been a shepherd since 1979. I learned from an old-time shepherd, Finley Nelson, and from my dad's stories of having goats when he was a kid. So, I do things the old fashioned way. I am happy to learn about new ways, but I still think simple is good.

Our lambing kit is simple. It starts with towels to help mama dry off babies. Most ewes or does have twins, so if we can help her by drying off one while she goes about the business of having the second, that's good. If it's cold, getting the babies dry quickly will help them stay warm.

Scissors, iodine, towels and clean straw are staples for planning on Havencroft Farm. 

The next thing that's in the kit is a sprayer bottle of iodine for spraying the lamb's umbilical cord. It's vitally important. We always iodine babies. Sometimes we dip navels, but for the last few years we've been drenching them well with the sprayer.

We also keep scissors in the bag, just in case we need to trim umbilicals that are dragging the ground, or trim wool away from udders on sheep that haven't been sheared yet. The next thing that is vital is making sure that babies nurse very soon after being born. They need the protection of the first milk, colostrum, to protect them from bacteria and to get their gut working. We check the mama's udder, making sure the colostrum is flowing freely even if we weren't there for the birth. We also check to make sure babies have full tummies and warm, moist mouths.

If the babies are too weak to nurse, or if there is any other reason they can't get colostrum within an hour of being born, we thaw out some frozen colostrum from last year, or earlier in the year and use a bottle or dose syringe to get it down them. We always freeze excess colostrum from our dairy goats in two ounce bags for just this purpose. Colostrum and soaking navels in iodine are considered absolutely necessary on our farm.

Something else I try to keep in the kit are recycled shopping bags. They are handy for disposing of after birth. We keep that cleaned up because we do have coyotes, raccoons and other predators that we don't want to invite with the smell of new birth.

We also make sure we have clean, dry bedding available. Some of our ewes choose not to use it, but we try.

Finally, we keep molasses in the kit. We mix about 2 tablespoons (or glugs)  in a bowl of warm water to offer to every new mom after giving birth. Most of them drink it down. It gives them water, sugar for energy and minerals like iron to help replace what they've lost.

It's not much, we keep it simple. We also do regular night time barn checks during kidding and lambing season. The whole flock gets used to the flashlight as the silly humans wander through their sleeping place two or three times a night. We are respectful of their sleep and try not to shine the light hard on any ewe or doe unless something looks unusual.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Shearing Time Begins with Magic

Havencroft Magic, daughter of Havencroft Luke and
Havencroft Hocus Pocus is due to lamb February 11.
She's the first ewe sheared for the 2019 season.

We started shearing today here on Havencroft Farm.

We start shearing this time of year because it is much better for the ewes to be sheared a week or two before lambing.

We breed our ewes to lamb this time of year for several reason, but mostly because, even though our jacob sheep are very parasite resistant, we help them with that in all ways possible. We want our lambs growing big and healthy and strong before we reach the time of year with above 60-degree nights. That's when the barber pole worms and other parasites flourish. If the young ones have some good growth on them, they are able to resist the parasites.

Havencroft Molly
Molly is Magic's cousin. Her mum Higgldy-Piggldy is sister to Hocus-Pocus.
Molly and Magic are also sisters on the paternal side. They are best friends,
and now that they are sheared, they look a lot alike. Luckily, Magic has a
dot on her nose and Molly doesn't. Now that she's sheared, it looks like
Molly has some freckles, too.

We breed to lamb in February and March, so, we shear in February and March.We do all the shearing ourselves, by hand. We also have busy work schedules, so we shear two to four a weekend. This time of year especially, we shear them in pairs, usually Mother-daughter or sisters or close friends. That way the newly sheared sheep can cuddle together in the shelter at night and keep each other warm.

Among the reasons to shear before lambing are:

  1. There is a natural break that occurs in the fleece due to the hormones when a ewe lambs. If you don't shear around this time, you will end up with a break in your wool, a problem when you spin it.
  2. When the ewes are sheared before lambing, it is easier for the lambs to locate the udder for that all important first drink of colostrum.
  3. If the ewe is sheared, she'll know when it is cold or wet, and go into the shelter. Her lambs will follow her.
  4. If the ewe is sheared, she can cuddle and share body heat with her lambs. If she is still wrapped up in a full wool fleece, all the heat stays inside. Her lambs can freeze if they can't share her body heat.
  5. We leave tails on, and it is easier to see udder development and lambing signs on a sheared ewe.

My daughter Lena and I do all the shearing ourselves,
by hand, on a stand. It's what works well for us
and gives us time with our sheep. It gives me
good spinning and weaving fleeces. 

We have 12 bred ewes this year, so even at only two a weekend, we'll get through them by mid-March. The other 13 sheep will get sheared around and after the ewes. The old sheep don't get sheared until the nights are staying warm. The angora goats get sheared in April and October and the three alpacas get sheared in May.

So if you're looking for me on the weekend from now until May, and it's not raining, and I'm not in the garden, I'll be out back shearing.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Story of Story Scarves

I started making story scarves several years ago. I met the delightful, energetic, flamboyant Ezra Phillips at an Interpreter workshop. I always spin yarn and crochet at workshop. Ezra was fascinated. I showed him how to spin. We had fun and at the end of the week, he said, "I want you to make me a scarf with EVERY COLOR!"

I was intrigued by the challenge. It sat in the back of my mind. I saw Ezra a few months later at a training. "Do you have my scarf done?" He asked. "It's starting to get cold!"

I went home that day and dipped into my yarn stash. As a weaver and crocheter, I often have a bit of a skein of yarn left when I finish weaving a shawl or making a hat or...

I came up with the idea of using these little bits of yarn, some only 10 yards long, others hundreds of yards, to make a l-o-n-g, multicolor, scrappy scarf for Ezra.

I crocheted it as we traveled while Shawn drove. As we went north, through corn fields and farmland, I though about the stories of the yarns I was working into this scarf. Some were handspun from our critters fleeces. Some were hand-me-overs from friends who were destashing. Some were bright novelty yarns from gypsy-style shawls I wove. The stories of the yarns wove themselves into the story of our trip. And the concept of story scarves was born. 

Ezra loved his scarf as much as I loved creating it. He shared pictures of where he traveled in that scarf. His stories added themselves to the fiber of the first story scarf. 

It was a concept that found its home in my heart. Every time I finish a big project, the little bits of left over yarn go into my project bag. That bag travels with me everywhere. 

I crochet story scarves at conferences, in hospital waiting rooms, on the plane, and in the passenger seat of the car. I've given them to nurses who went out of their way to care for family members. I've given them to friends who expressed an interest in the project. I've donated them to auctions for scholarships and causes. 

My word for 2019 is "Focus"  (to me that means "be present where I am and work on the thing that is in front of me at the moment") and to that end, I am focusing story scarves on a cause. 

Crafts people across the US are aging. It's hard to make a living with your hands. It's hard to find the time to focus in a craft enough to achieve a mastery of that craft. We have craft masters in more than 20 crafts at the Ozark Folk Center State Park. This year I am focusing on growing our exsisting apprentice program into one that will help young people connect with our craft masters, learn their skills and perpetuate our Ozark tradition of craftsmanship. 

To that end, I'm donating 50% of the sales price of each story scarf to the Committee of One Hundred for the Ozark Folk Center. Their craft scholarships have helped create many of the master craft artisans in our park over the last 45 years. We are going to bring that tradition to a new generation. 

This story scarf in the picture, crocheted on the plane to Winter Market in Las Vegas, and any others I create this year will be available in my Havencroft Farm etsy store, along with its story. The donation to the Committee will be in the scarf buyers name.

The Story of this Scarf

This story scarf was crocheted on the plane to Las Vegas in January of 2019. We were headed out on a buying trip to Las Vegas Winter Market. 

The base yarn in this scarf is the center handspun gray, it is from Cowslip's wool. She is currently our eldest Jacob Sheep ewe. She was born in February of 2003. She is quite the pet and comes out of the retired sheep yard every morning and evening to get her own special grain mix.

The next yarn is a bright red wool. I dyed it to make a hat for an runner friend. I never could get the hat right, and the yarn has been used in several projects. I ought to get back to that. Maybe I'll try some alpaca yarn this time.

The heathered green yarn is from a dear friend who was destashing her very delicious yarns. I let most of the bag go to our Sit & Stitch friends, and to the project basket for the Fiber Arts shop at the Ozark Folk Center, but I liked the feel of this one, and wanted a chance to work with it.

The fall multi colored cotton is from a shawl I wove, as is the blue/green/black thick-thin, the shiny ribbon, and the pale lavendar fuzzy. And there's a light gray alpaca in the mix that Lena used in knitting a pair of socks.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sheep Farming - A Labor of Love

I am a shepherd.
Havencroft Higgledy-Piggledy (Higgs) grows fleeces for
some of my best wild rugs, has awesome lambs, and loves
to get scratched under her wool. She wags her tail when
you get the right spot, just like a dog. She passes that
unique trait on to her children.

My heart, my soul and my passion are -
  • the land that supports my sheep and goats; 
  • the healthy flocks that greet me every time I look out the window or step outside; 
  • the milk, wool, mohair, alpaca, llama and dog fiber they provide for my fiber arts; 
  • the spinning, weaving, felting and crochet that I do with the fleeces from my animals; 
  • the cheese that I make from the goat's milk; 
  • the connections I make with the people who buy the things I craft; 
  • and the relationships that those folks build with our animals and land.
It's a lot of hard work, and it is truly a labor of love.

HF Hocus Pocus is mildly annoyed at her son for climbing on her.
HF Finesse ("Nessie" - Thyme's last lamb and Canoe Lake Sonic Boom's first
on our land), is on the right is with her two 2018 ram lambs. We retired her
with those two boys. She's only nine, but she had trouble lambing.
Our retired sheep, now six of them, ranging in age from 9 to 16,
live in a big paddock with trees and a deep bedded shelter
on the west side of our land.

I frequently get asked if I make a living farming. I have learned to school my expression and not laugh maniacally at the question. There was a time when I thought I could live sustainable as a farmer, and there are people who do. I don't. As my tax preparer says, "You have a hobby farm." It's a lot of hard work for a "hobby". It is a labor of love.

So, it's tax time again and as I was figuring things up, I thought I'd share some numbers. Every farm is different and costs vary every year. The weather is also a big factor. Some years we can graze seven months. Some years we feed hay all year.

These numbers aren't meant to prove anything. They are just some business numbers from Havencroft Farm in the Arkansas Ozarks.

Like many Americans, we have a mortgage, utilities, gas, groceries, medical bills and insurance. We are lucky enough to have jobs to pay for all of that. Our jobs and help from our folks cover infrastructure like roofs, fencing, and barns; and equipment upgrades like my new Spinolution Firefly, an electric production spinning wheel that allows me to keep spinning the yarns I love as my body ages.

I love this picture of the sheep grazing out front fall of 2018.
Left to right are HF Judith, HF Hester, HF Ipswich (Dapper Dan's last daughter),
HF Magic, HF Nexxus, and HF Natalie.

Our flocks of 25 adult Jacob Sheep, 4 angora goats, 3 alpacas, and five dairy goats mostly pay for their own food, supplements and medical bills.

This last year, expenses were
Hay - (thanks for wonderful friends in a very weird growing year), $1,350
Grain - $4,680
Supplements - salt blocks, kelp, selenium - $800
Vet - (supplies like wormers and visits - and we have an awesome vet. Thanks Doc Nixon!) - $900

Total expenses  - $7,730

This year my goal is to weave all my
shawls from yarns spun out of 
fleece grown on our 
Havencroft Farm by our beloved
sheep, goats, and alpaca.
That's part of the reason I've 
enjoyed dyeing so much this winter.

Income from sales of products I make by hand from milk and fleeces from our animals -
Goat's milk - $384 (family drinks most of it, or eats the cheese I make from the milk, this number is just direct sales to customers.)
Sales from the Havencroft Farm etsy store, $1,200 (I hope to build that back up this coming year)
Sales of Fleecyful rugs, Havencroft Homestead Handspun yarns, and handwoven shawls - $4,300
Sales of ram lambs and extra ewe lambs - $1,500

Total income - $7,384

So, the cost to our homestead budget of having the sheep and goats that I love so much is $346, this past year.

They're worth it, to me, and I hope to those of you who love the things you treasure from the fleeces they grow. Its truly a labor of love.

I love to spin yarn from the fleeces of my sheep, and to be able to watch them
playing out the window as I spin. I love how the yarn seems to have the
characteristics of the sheep or goat who is growing it, sometimes sweet and
soft, sometimes michevous, sometimes elegant. This yarn is
HF Luna's (Moose Mountain Jacob x HF Imbri)
spun as a whole fleece, right from the pillowcase we put the fleece in after
shearing. Luna started out shy, but she has grown to be one of our boss ewes.

Each Fleecyful rug that I weave is from the whole fleece
of one of our Jacob Sheep, angora goats, or alpacas.
I usually weave with the raw fleece, right out of the bag
it's put in a shearing, letting the natural colors of the
animals design the pattern of the rug.