Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How to safely store fresh fleeces

In and around snowstorms we have been shearing here on Havencroft Farm. The sheep and goats have warm shelters in their hoop houses and the mamas have to be shorn before they kid or lamb. It's a busy time of year, so I have to have a good way to store all those fleeces until I can spin them into yarn or weave them into rugs.
Fleeces waiting on the desk to be tied and stored.

Our system is simple, yet has worked well for years. I buy lots of pillow cases at the local second hand store. They sell them for $2.00 for a bag full. I can reuse them for many years.
As we shear a sheep or goat, we put their fleece in an individual pillow case. Some of them we have to pack into a king sized case, others barely fill a regular pillow case. Then, with a sharpie marker, I write the name of the critter, the date and my intended use for the fleece - rug or spin. Sometimes I will put other notes like "good lanolin", "lots of vm" or "Mine!" for any fleece I really want to spin.

Fleeces stored on the shelf with chunks of cedar.
We bring them into the house and toss them on my sewing desk. Then, when I have a few minutes, I check their labels, make sure they are dry, tie the end of the pillow case with a string and tuck them into the fleece shelf. The cubbies on this shelf are 2-foot by 2-foot, a great size to store about 6 of our fleeces in. I put chunks of cedar in with the fleeces to keep moths away. We always have lots of cedar around.

I can easily store 30 to 40 fleeces in my shop. When I have more, they get stacked in the corner. This storage system works great, as I use up almost all the fleeces we shear each year spinning yarns, weaving shawls and making rugs.

I store finished goods in tubs on top of the shelf, with bags of cedar shavings in the tubs. Yarns and finer goods I store in ziplock bags in the freezer.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Shepherding takes passion, dedication and a support network

Spring is a busy time on any farm. Here at Havencroft, where we raise Jacob sheep, dairy goats and angora goats, we know we won't get much sleep the end of March. But even planning on that, this week was a little extreme.
First time mom Greta does a great job with her little ram lamb.

During lambing season, we check everyone well at evening feeding. If no one seems to be in labor, we only do a two a.m. check on everybody. But, if a ewe or doe is close, then we check every two hours, especially with the first-time moms. Lena and I switch off on these checks, which helps.
Greta, a two-year-old Jacob sheep ewe labored hard to have her rather large ram lamb (by Canoe Lake Sonic Boom) about 10 p.m. Sunday night. He did fine and is now debating with Hocus's Incantation about who rules the sheep pen.

Then, Tuesday evening, Lena's very special Demi sheep, (and the sheep who grows those incredible dark gray, silver tipped fleeces for my best Fleecyful Wool Rugs), went into labor. By 9:00 it was obvious she needed help and by 10:30, I knew that I couldn't handle the problems. We found our new vet in the middle of the night. Dr. Jill Baird in Clinton is a god-send!
Dr. Jill Baird of Van Buren County Vet Clinic labored for more than two hours in the middle of the night Tuesday to save Demi and her lamb.
She labored more than two hard, physical hours to save Demi and one of her beautiful lambs. Lena and I had driven Demi over to the vet in Lena's car. Clinton is more than an hours drive, over some pretty twisty roads, so we made it back home with Demi and baby by 3:00 a.m. for a bit of sleep for all of us.

At the 6:00 a.m. check, Demi was in trouble. I tried our local vets, hoping to save Demi and lamb the stress of the drive, but by 10:00 a.m., I was headed back to Clinton, after arranging for many wonderful friends to cover things for me at work!

Dr. Jill gave Demi IV fluids and did surgery to patch things up inside. The wonderful staff at the clinic helped hold the lamb, who cried if she was put in a crate. After all was finished, we tucked momma and lamb together to wake up. Demi was so happy to see her lamb when she came to.

Demi and baby resting after surgery on Wednesday.
 In an hour or so, she was up and wanting to know where they kept the food in this joint. Demi does love her feed. She helped clear the chickweek and a weed tree out of the livestock yard at the Clinic. I tried to thank Dr. Jill, and we were on our way!

Demi after surgery, ready to head home with her ewe lamb.

Demi and Ipswich (Jill) home after Demi's surgery.
 Then, after Spring came dancing in last weekend, it blew back out with a big snow storm Thursday night. We got about 6" of snow here at Havencroft, before it started raining on top of it at 3:00 a.m. Luckily it was just warm enough that the rain cleared the roads, instead of icing them. It also washed away some, but not all of the snow.

The sheep and goats were all tucked in their shelters, except for Henna, one of our Lamancha dairy goat yearlings, who was in labor and insisted on being outside. Every two hours, I went out and put her back in the barn. I tried to move her to the milk shelter, but the entire herd broke out of the gate I hadn't locked tight (at 2 a.m.) and so I did good just to get everybody back in the goat pen.

The goat kids playing in the barn after Thursday night's snow.

Spring in the Ozarks

Mouse, Bones and Dapper Dan want breakfast.

Our mountain, shrouded in fog on Friday morning.
 Finally, at 8:07 a.m., when I had called in late to work for the 2nd time this week, Henna had a lovely little doe - in the snow bank. Lena and I penned her in the barn and I went to work. When I got back home at lunch to check on everyone, I found the second little doe. Mom and both babies are fine.

Henna, our Lamancha dairy goat yearling and her twins, born Friday morning about 8 a.m. (after I checked her every 2 hours all night long!)

Shepherding takes passion, dedication and a whole village of folks to support the effort. I want to thank Dr. Jill and Dr. Ben; Lena; Shawn; Missy Epperson; Josh; Melody and the whole rest of everybody who helped out this week!
We have 2 more angora goats and 6 more jacob sheep left to have babies. Last year, two of them had lambs at our Shearing Day open house. Who knows what will happen this year? This year's Shearing Days Open House here at Havencroft Farm is March 30 from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. Leave a comment if you need more details.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dr. Jill saves Demi-sheep

Demi, our lovely Havencroft Farm crossbred ewe, who grows those incredible silver tipped gray fleeces for my best Fleecyful wool rugs, went into labor last night around supper time. This is her fourth set of lambs, all sired by Dapper Dan. While we cover most health care items on our farm, this day showed how important a good vet is to the sustainability of any livestock enterprise.

By bedtime it was obvious Demi was in trouble. I checked her out-and it was beyond me. So, at 10:30 pm, we put calls out and found a wonderful young vet in Clinton. We arrived there before midnight. Dr. Jill Baird of Van Buren County Animal Clinic labored intensely with Demi for more than 2 hours and managed to save her and one of her babies- a huge white ewe lamb.

Demi and her lamb resting comfortably after surgery.
This morning Demi needed help again, and after calling our local vets, it was back to Dr. Jill. I told her I hope she likes sheep, because she's obviously our new vet. She just smiled, but she did have a glow about her (and she did take lots of pictures with her phone of little Jill lamb).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Busy night on the Farm

Fantasia's twin doelings by Herkimer. I think we'll
call them Imagination and Inspiration?

Do you see the baby goat?
Who do you think spent an hour searching for her at 1:00 a.m.?
Luckily, Shawn's feelingbetter, because I got him up to help me
find her. He's the one who spotted her. This barrel
was in the sheep pen.
It was a busy night here on the farm, with new baby angora goats after a day of shearing. Fantasia's fleece was short, but I could tell she was close to kidding. I want to back up the angora goat's shearing shedule any way, so that will mean short fleeces this spring. Shorter mohair still spins up into beautiful yarn.

Fantasia had these beautiful twin girls about 11:00 p.m. I'm so glad Shawn is up and around again. He's also getting his sense of humor back. He wanted to name them Isabell and Isnotabell. I nixed that. I came up with Isa and Imnot... but I didn't like those either. At midnight, Lena just said she doesn't like angora goats anyway and she didn't care what I named them.

I think, since mommy is Fantasia, they need to be Imagination and Inspiration? What do you think.

We also had a baby goat hunt last night... the baby is fine. I'm wondering if this is inspiration for a picture book...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Vlogging, or how to shear a sheep

Today we are trying something new on here on Havencroft Farm, I am going to show you how easy it is to shear a sheep, one of my first steps in making the high quality yarn you can buy at Common Threads.

This past week, I was lucky enough to be able to spend an hour with Stephanie Crampton Buckley, one of the founders of Arkansas Women Bloggers and owner of The Women Bloggers. She went through my connections - my blog, my Facebook account and my etsy store and gave me some advice for a tune up.

One of her suggestions was start vlogging (video blogging) some of our How-to's. Shawn was feeling well enough today to come outside and film this "How we shear our sheep" here on our farm; this is our first attempt.

My etsy store, Common Threads, has been doing ok this winter, but I'd like to increase my reach. I have been advertising on Facebook, and on etsy. I saw a spike in hits after the great article in the Three Rivers Edition of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette by Emily van Zandt and photographed by Rusty Hubbard. But, I'm still looking for ways to spread the word about the wonderful yarns and rugs that my sheep and goats grow the wool and mohair for.

Also, Stephanie said, as a craft person, I just had to do Pinterest. I haven't felt like I had the time for one more thing, but she showed me how to make it easy to at least update my boards and keep things fresh. So, I did some of that last night.

She suggested that I come up with 5 words or phrases that describe what I am/do to focus my efforts and then to use one of them in the first paragraph of everything for SEO  (that's "search engine optimization" mom). I've come up with YARN, FARM, WOOL RUG and I'm looking for the other two. Wool rug might not stay, but yarn and farm definitely do. What suggestions do you have for words? What words would you use to search and find out about our products.

And then, she pointed out that how-to's get the top hits. If you look on my stats for this blog, the two top articles are "How to build a sheep feeder," and "Hoop houses for sheep shelters".

So, as you saw above, I started Vlogging today. And I combined it with sheep shearing, which is one of the major foci of my life right now here on the farm. Keep tuned for more how-to video blogs. Maybe we'll start a Common Threads YouTube channel.

Spring arrives on the Farm

Spring arrived this week. It was nothing gradual, Spring came on Wednesday, like a person walking in through the door.

Suddenly, I did chores without my Carhartts for the first time in months. I didn't need my gloves to hold the frosty metal grain bucket handles, because they weren't frosty.

Yellow, purple and blue poking up in the front pasture.
I could get in my car and drive to work, without having to scrape the frost off the window.

The front pasture suddenly turned purple and yellow and blue.

Suddenly, I just had to make a gallon of peppermint sun tea.

Hundreds of robins flocked to City Park as I drove by on my way to work.  I saw cardinals as I did morning chores.

All of a sudden, on Wednesday, Spring arrived.
Harley's little doeling
Then, on Thursday, my little yearling Lamancha diary goat Harley had her first kid. This little girl will be going to live with Linda P. when she is a bit older.
Suddenly, I had to remember to santize the milk pail for the first time since November. And the dishes left on the counter became part of my morning routine, along with milking. On Tuesday, goat milk will go back to being the mainstay of my diet. Ah, Spring.

 And then my favorite little yearling ewe presented us with her first little ewe lamb. Hocus Pocus is a sweet, friendly darling of a sheep. I think her wee little Incantation will be as sweet as she is adorable. She has a tight little curly coat and I love rubbing my cheek over her soft side.

Suddenly, Spring arrived on the farm this week. I hope your week was delightful.

Harley's little doeling a few hours later, all cleaned up.

Hocus Pocus and her little ewe, Incantation

Incantation's better side. Boomer is her daddy.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Finally, shearing really begins

We planned to start shearing well over a month ago. But that weekend it snowed, and in spite of the all reasons, I just couldn't bear to give the girls haircuts when it was that cold. Weather and life kept getting in the way of shearing.

Demi doesn't mind being sheared. Shearing comes with back scratches!

Hocus Pocus in her new spring short coat.
But, as much as I hate the spring time change, this week it gave Lena and me the hour every evening to shear a sheep.
So, now Hocus Pocus is sheared, and Demi, and Cowslip and Greta and Basil. So far, these are all nice, big, full rug fleeces. Which is great, because I need to make rugs!
How do you shear your flock? One sheep at a time.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Chicken counting

One of our Silver Laced Wyandotte hens waits
for Hester, a Jacob Sheep yearling ewe to
finish her breakfast. 

The grass is getting greener.
They say... maybe it was a Cornell study I read, or maybe a USA Today article... that most animals can count to three. I've seen examples of that, in sheep and goats. I do think some animals have better math skills than others.
I thought of that factoid when I heard myself counting chickens before I locked them in the coop last night. "Three hens, three hens - and a rooster."

Getting a drink out of the sheep's water pan.

Saturday, March 09, 2013


"Sustainable, that's your word for the year," said my boss when we were having a discussion about park programs. Cool, that's easy, I've been using that word in conjunction with homesteading and agriculture for decades. I can do that.

And then I worked to apply it to work. Basically my understanding of the concept:
Inputs need to meet or exceed outputs.
All aspects need to be covered.
The goal is the betterment of the organization (land); community (flocks), etc.

and then I went back to the definition: (Merriam-Webster.comand the definition for non-English speakers was easier to understand )
1 : able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed 
 sustainable energy resources  a sustainable water supply
2 : involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources 
 sustainable agriculture/farming/techniques
3 : able to last or continue for a long time 
 sustainable development/growth

And then I began to question equivalencies -
If we create a great program that allows us to advertise something cool going on at the park, is it a good thing that when all the money shakes out, this program - that possibly brought new awareness of the park to X number of people - only cost us $42? Or is it a bad thing that it did not have a positive cash flow? How do we rank outcomes?

On the farm, my sheep will never make money, especially in a drought or wet or... year. But, my sheep and goats, the wool, fiber, milk, offspring, manure and mowing they provide are a vital part of our farm and our lifestyle. Through the stories I write about them, they promote our crafts and our products. The friends we have found through these stories, shows we do and online communication have enriched our lives and help support the sheep and goats through their caring, support, comments and purchases. These relationships don't have a dollar value.

And there are the unknowns. How much is my goat milk saving me on health care? How much is being outside with my animals and garden worth?

Through having a variety of fleeces, textures and combinations, I  continue to improve and create in my fiber crafts. Through hours of practice, I gain the skills to teach others these arts. Dollarwise, the flocks are never going to show a profit, but by just being there for me to care for them, they are worth what ever I can afford.

And we are back to Sustainable. What does a real balance sheet look like? Yes, there is your dollar income and outgo, but with all of life, there is more than that. How do you define Sustainable?