Saturday, December 27, 2014

Winter Gear

I'm four fifths of the way through my five days off work for the holidays and starting to panic about not having time to finish all the things I wanted (needed) to get done. 
Some people have the impression that things slow down on the farm in the winter. The work doesn't, we just change gears. Each season has its own jobs, demands, workflow and pace. 
In the winter, I dye fleeces and yarns, because in spring we are too busy with lambing, kidding and planting and in the summer, it's too doggone hot to heat up the house with simmering dye kettles. Yesterday, I dyed turquioise all day, maybe trying to fill the need for a sunny sky that has been long absent. So, with that in mind, I started with yellow today. I'll run the yellow, orange, red, brown spectrum today. 
The new porches, under the new metal roof on the house, are nice dry places for drying fleece. But everytime I go out, it's a reminder that we need to put up porch rails, and I want to screen in one of them before summer. Front, back, we're still debating. At least painting can wait until its warmer.
We mostly have the critters in dry shelters now, though the bred angora does are not sharing well. We'll add another hoop house to their pen today, giving added shelter and a extra space for when kidding starts in March.
Hay is under cover and supply seems to be holding out well. I need to catch up on registrations for the Jacob sheep and dairy goats. That's a winter chore that I haven't tackled yet this year. 
I like to get ahead on my rug weaving in the winter, too. Weaving rugs is much more fun in the winter, when wool is warm and comforting, rather than in the summer when its hot. Two nice new mohair rugs done this week and I'll tackle finishing the beast of an all-farm rug today.
I've been spinning through Mo's alpaca fleece most of the year, off-and-on. I want to get it done. The bag is almost empty now, and I did get the warp on the loom this week for the blanket I'm weaving from the the fleece. Almost through the first 20" of natural, then I'll weave 6" of turquiose and recreate that band on the other end. 
Winter is the time of year when we are most optimistic about our gardens. The plans, research and dreams take up our evening conversations, but much of the stuctural work is done in the winter, too. Yesterday my folks came over and my dad helped put up the framework for our hoop house cold frame. We'll plastic it on the next sunny day... which I hope is soon. We are going to start greens, maybe cabbages right now. The baby plants under lights in February. In the summer, we'll strip off the plastic and use the hoop to grow green beans.
Lena and I tight fenced a little area in front to do a flower garden. I'm thinking herbs and dye plants, along with strawberries, but we are also looking at flowers just for pretty. We both want climbing roses for the front porch and are researching fragrant, disease resistant, drought and shade tolerant hardy climbing roses. She likes the peach and yellow, I like dusty purple.
But right now, I need to take mohair out of the dyebath and go fix the angora does shelter before the next round of rain.
Maybe I'll even find time this season to do some more blog updates. If you want to follow what's happening here on Havencroft farm, like the Common Threads Facebook page. I update that off my phone on the run. Happy winter!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Playing Tourist - Arkansas State Capitol, Little Rock

The Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock

My mother has an incredible curiosity. No matter where we were in the world, she'd go find interesting things to see, people to talk to, natural places to visit and culture to explore. I have memories of grasshoppers in Germany, tulips in Holland, blueberries and boulders in Alaska, forests in Alabama and so much more.  Where ever we went, she'd find place for us to explore and beauty around every corner.

And my mom loves pretty rocks. I remember having the back of our old Chitty bang-bang station wagon full of pretty rocks we picked up on a camping trip in Alaska. We just enjoyed them for being pretty. I don't know about my brothers, but I never even tried to identify any of them, I just enjoyed the rocks for being pretty. That family attraction to pretty rocks continues to this day. Just last night, my daughter Lena brought me a pretty rock, that might be a chunk of a geode from the sheep pen. It surfaced in the last rain.But I dye grass (family word for wandering off topic - that's a whole 'nother blog post).

Very large pretty rocks

Yesterday I was in Little Rock at central office for a work meeting. Over the lunch break when I am there for meetings I love to go explore the Capitol campus. There are monuments, interesting trees, things that could be art and lots of pretty people. One of the things that amused me yesterday was the number of large rocks with bronze plaques attached. It made me think of my mom. The people who collected the pretty rocks on the Capitol lawn needed more equipment and support than three energetic kids!

The bronzes are incredible.
If you want to explore the Arkansas State Capitol campus in Little Rock, they have a nice tour guide you can download at the link above and an audio tour that you can download to your phone and follow


Monday, July 14, 2014

Tech! - grr - and maybe I did need a new ram

It's been a beautiful summer here, enough rain to make the garden grow well and the lambs, kids, alpacas, angoras, Jacob Sheep and dairy goats are doing well. Lena and I have moved shelters to the best summer spots and fences for better grazing. In the garden I have hundreds of green tomatoes on the vine, have frozen a couple gallons of black berries, am watching the potatoes and garlic almost ready to harvest and enjoying the moderate temperatures. It has not broken 100 degrees yet this summer.

Early on in the summer, I was shopping for a new Jacob Sheep ram to breed our Canoe Lake Sonic Boom daughters to, but I decided that we could wait another year. Just like I've decided that my dairy goats are for giving milk, not for making more dairy goats, I have the sheep for their wool. Lambs are nice, but I don't have to breed the girls every year to get wool. I was ram shopping on the new Jacob Sheep facebook group - a modern way to find new bloodlines to keep our heritage breed vibrant.

I love to tell people in my work at the Ozark Folk Center State Park that we use and keep the traditional methods of making things by hand, but we also use and enjoy modern conveniences of internet and vehicles. We cherish our history and our unique culture. History and culture didn't stop in the past - we are living and creating both today.

My broom maker partner, Shawn Hoefer, was twice named champion craft broom maker at the Arcola, Illinios Broom Corn Festival. He and my daughter Lena (second place broom maker at the Arcola festival!) make and sell more than 4,000 hand-tied, hand-dyed, hand-carved brooms per year. Broom making is Shawn's vocation. And his other vocation is tech. Broomsquire by day; Geek by night. He designs awesome web sites for more than 30 clients. He swears he really needs all those tablets, computers and handheld devices to make sure his sites display correctly cross platform.

I, on the other hand, am a manager and interpreter by day. I have an awesome, creative job working with lots of people who I really enjoy. And, as you know from this blog, I am a shepherd, dairy farmer, fiber artists, cheesemaker, gardener and cook with the other 118 hours in a week that I'm not at work. I use a computer at work and I depend heavily on my handheld for many, many things. But I am not a geek.

Shawn offered to update the ram in my little Acer Aspire One about a year ago. I said I didn't need it. I like my little computer. I would be perfectly happy to keep using this same computer for the rest of my life. But over this year, it became so slow that it wouldn't accept software updates. So I'd open it and couldn't use it. (That's why I've gotten away from writing blog posts). So it sat in the pouch on my chair.

Finally, about two weeks ago I gave it to Shawn to try and get the updates installed. He fussed with it, cussed it and ordered a new ram chip, which he installed last night. I guess I did need a new ram, just not the wooly kind. My computer does seem to be faster, though now it doesn't want to save my pictures where I want them. Probably something to do with the updates. Several people have told me that my photo system is too old school and not supported any longer... but I like it and know it and it works fine for me!!! Or it did... that is one of the things that I wish we could figure out how to add to the tech world. I have a perfectly good 90 year old loom that I use daily, why do I have to quit using my beloved handheld device after less than 4 years?

So, I seem to have a working computer at home now, and should be able to go back to sharing updates with you from Havencroft Farm. I'm a little better a putting updates on our Common Threads page on Facebook as I can do those from my handheld.
And now I'm headed out to milk and weed the blueberries. When I come back in after chores, I'll see if I can't find a way to get pictures to post here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Gardening and cheesemaking

Those of you who follow my blog know that last year I made the decision that my dairy goat herd was for milk production, not for raising dairy goats. To that end, I found someone who would take and raise the kids for their own use, and I have all the sweet, creamy milk from my four does. 

Right now I'm getting about four gallons a day. And I'm making cheese daily. 

I got a Dutch style cheese press for my birthday, along with molds and followers. I've made some delicious cheeses. I have yet to be able to save any to age. My family loves cheese. 

Yesterday I made a cheese with some fresh Greek oregano incorporated into it. I got the plant from the Ozark Folk Center State Park Herb Shoppe and it is doing well in my garden. 

Between making cheese, doing chores and gardening, I seem to be having trouble finding time to weave this summer. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Cheesy Day

I thought I'd take my own advice and start keeping a cheese notebook, as I have several cheeses in process today. But, I couldn't find a blank notebook and didn't want to drive to the store, so, I thought I'd try this. 
Shawn got me a Dutch style cheese press for my birthday, so I can make some hard, aged cheeses. 

To that end, I made two recultureable cultures starting with New England Cheesemakings Mesophilic culture and I started a culture of the "fresh" culture whilst I was at it. I sterilized two canning jars with lids in boiling water, then poured in this mornings fresh milk and put the two sealed jars in a boiling water bath about an inch over the lids for 35 minutes. 
When the timer want off, I ran cool water into the pot and when the milk temp was down to 86 degrees I added the fresh culture and put the jar atop the freezer. When the milk temp was down to 80 degrees, I added the Mesophilic culture and put that jar above the fridge. 

Tomorrow, I'll put the two cultures in the fridge until I can divide them out into ice cube trays to freeze them. 

I also started a cheese in the crockpot with this mornings milk. At 90 degrees I added 1 cup of sweet homemade goat's milk yogurt ( made with New England Cheesemakings sweet yogurt culture) and then I let it set at that temp for 3 hours. The keep warm setting on the crock pot was too warm so I unplugged it, but the temp seemed to maintain. I added 1/2 tab of dissolved Marschalls rennet at 12:20 pm and the temp was still at 90. 

Today is humid, raining off and on and the outside temp is 76 degrees. I have the house windows open. The weather app says rain will start again in 51 minutes, so I'm going to go feed the bottle baby lambs and work in the alpaca fence while the curd forms on the crockpot cheese. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Homesteading economics

"But don't you like meat?" queried the young woman as we talked about my goat flock. I had just given away the last of my crossbred goat kids to a family who raises them for their own winter meat supply. 
"Oh, I like our own farm-raised meat well enough." I replied. "Just not well enough to spend my milk supply raising meat."
I'd far rather have my milk for putting in my coffee, making cheese and sharing with my friends and family. Homestead economics. 

Thursday, April 03, 2014

C is for Craft

Merriam Webster - Craft

 noun \ˈkraft\
: an activity that involves making something in a skillful way by using your hands
: a job or activity that requires special skill
crafts : objects made by skillful use of the hands

My life is devoted to the perpetuation of the skills of creating things with your hands. I work with more than 50 independent craft artisans at the Ozark Folk Center State Park. When I'm not at work, I'm at home on our farm in the Arkansas Ozarks, spinning, weaving, dyeing, felting, crocheting and finding other ways to create beautiful things from the fleeces from my much loved angora goats and Jacob sheep.  

Crafting has always brought peace and relaxation to my life. And I've watched learning to create things with their hands light a spark in young people's eyes and lives. This is an idea that I'd love to develop into a full essay, but I need to go rinse the purple wool I have in the dye pot...

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

B is for Boys

           B is for boy. Boy sheep and boy goats.

Lots of fuzzy little critters running around in the alleyways between the fences.

2014 has been a slightly boy-ish year here on  Havencroft Farm. 

Out of nine lambs on the ground, we have six boys. We only have four ewes left to lamb. A few if those boys look to be ram quality if you are looking for a new herd sire, let me know and I can send you pedigrees. 

Hester's lilac boy is very nice. We'll see how all their horns come in before we decide who remains a ram.  

Out of five angora goat kids, three are boys and we're done with babies in that flock. 

Happy B-day. April 2, 2014. 

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Blogging from A to Z - April Challenge - April, Angoras & Asparagus

I've joined the Blogging from A to Z - April Challenge to get me back to writing here. In the busy days of February and March I've found I do all my chronicling on Facebook, posting quick and easy pics and posts of new lambs and kids and happenings in the garden.

So each day in April, skipping Sunday, I'll do a post featuring the next letter in the alphabet. Today, April 1 is A.
A is for April, I love this month, with flowers and garden work and lots of baby lambs and kids to entertain us as we work.
A is for angora goats. I love their personalities - and their fiber. I've just finished a fantastic Fantasia rug and am working on a rug from Ishmael's fleece. I dyed more of Tillie's most recent clip in some pinks for spring.
A is for asparagus... I think that's what we'll have for dinner. Asparagus with goat cheese and fresh eggs from our wonderful hens.
Life on the farm is full of delights, from A to Z.

Jilly and Juxty, Tillie's new kids, love their mama Llama.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Wintery mix, again

Five degrees this morning, wind chill -17.

Yesterday started at 38 and rain. It changed to pellets of sleet after lunch at mom and dad's. We shoveled the heavy sticky ice off the shelters as we checked babies, bottle fed Julep (who was born a little early and her mama, Hailey is short on milk) and fed everybody some extra lunch hay. We listened to the thunder through the thick clouds and we're thankful the predicted winds didn't materialize. 

The ice was crusting everything at 4:00 pm and we broke it out of feed pans and off water troughs. Doing evening chores at sunset, we brushed the pelleted heavy ice off of everything, freezing our gloved hands in the process. 

Then at 10:00 pm, Boomer's shelter collapsed under the weight of all the new sleet. He and George were outside and fine. All four people went out and shoveled, heaved and propped the shelter up with pallets. It's standing fine this morning. Again, we shovel crispy ice off shelters and were very glad it was pellet stuff that didn't stick to trees so we kept our  electricity. 

The angoras shelter seemed to be collecting the greatest weight of ice, or maybe it was just because we cleared it last. 

Finally, about midnight, the precipitation change to a light and fluffy snow. 
We started morning chores about 6:30, doing them in shifts with the wind chill so low. The stuff covering the ground is crusted over, frozen hard and easy to walk on. There is ice covered with ice pellets, covered with ice and powdered with snow on top. It's not supposed to get above freezing for several days, so at least we have the current consolation that this stuff is easy to get feed through. 

Even though I had flipped the feed pans after last nights chores, I still had to chisel them out of the ice this morning. We've hauled buckets of hot water from the bathtub to everyone this morning and will start a new round of water buckets shortly. 

Now, all the sheep, goats, horse and llama are tucked into well bedded shelters out of the wind. The humans, dogs and cats are warming up inside the house. And I think we are all hoping this is the last round of "wintery mix" for this season. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Shearing 2014 begins

Today was in the 50's with snow melt running off the hill and covering the ground with water. The long range forecast looks clement, so, we started started shearing. 

Ishmael was our bell wether angora goat. Having been sheared in late July, his fleece was more than ready. It is so full of winter hay, I'm not sure what I'm going to be able to do with it. 

I trimmed up Tillie's tummy and checked Fantasia, who is due March 1. I'll let her fleece grow a bit more. 

Moving over to the Jacob sheep, we sheared Nessie, who is due March 1. She has a udder the size of a jersey cow. We also sheared Higgs, who is due to have her first lambs in March. 

Ishmael putting up with his hair cut. He was very happy to go scratch and soak up sunshine when we let him off the stand. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Havencroft Farm welcomes our first angora goat kids of 2014

This morning about 6 a.m., Chantilly Lace, the pretty angora goat doe on my signs and business cards, went into labor. Tillie's eight-years-old (a bit old for a goat), but she's never had kidding problems. However, things just haven't seemed right, so I've been checking on her at night for the last two weeks. Between the single digit temps, snow, ice and her not acting quite right, I just wanted to keep an eye on her.
Her water broke, but her labor just wasn't progressing. About 7:30, I checked and found feet facing the right way. We waited a bit more, but she wasn't pushing at all. I checked again, but things didn't feel right, so we headed to Doc Nixon's. 

Doc looked out the door at the two feet protruding from Tillie's birth canal, said "uh oh" and went back into the clinic. 
Not what you really want to hear your vet say. But he was back in a few minutes and shortly thereafter a little buck kid was born. We named him Juxtaposition. He didn't want to get born, so his head was turned back. Doc let Tillie rest about 1/2 an hour, but she still wasn't pushing, so he helped little Jilly-doe into the world. 

Tillie, Jux and Jilly are home in the barn with a heat lamp on them now. It only got up into the 20's today, and is forecast to be 11 degrees tonight. They may spend the night in my workshop. Luckily, it is supposed to get up to freezing tomorrow and climb steadily to stay above freezing at night by the weekend. I sure hope!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Havencroft Farm pic of the day

Nilly (Vanilla Bean), our 11-year-old Jacob sheep ewe, who was born blind, shares her breakfast with one of the silver-laced Wyandotte hens. 

Sheep to squirrel - a needle felting journey

This is Demi-sheep. She's our Iceladic x Corriedale ewe. Her mum was Chalcedony and her daddy was Homer. She loves her morning grain, especially in this winter snow. Demi grows the wool I'm using to needle felt the Arkansas gray squirrels I've been making. 

This squirrel is needle felted from Demi's wool over a wire armature. He's excited to be headed to the Arkansas Flower and Garden show where he'll be a part of the Ozark Folk Center secret garden. 

Saturday, February 08, 2014

February 8, 2014. More snow.

Last night's somewhat unexpected inch of snow kept me home from a tourism conference where I was supposed to help promote this beautiful, wonderful land that we live in.

We live in the Arkansas Ozarks. The northern edge of the south, the western edge of the east. Usually a moderate climate with four distinct seasons. This winter is a real, solid winter.

We had our first snow storm the first week in December. We've now had snow covering the ground for most of two months. But it's just winter, and spring is on the way.
Today I went out to take pics so that I could look at them to cool off this summer. 

Tillie is due to kid next week. She'd like to go up in the woods.

My sweet potato slips have been too cold to do much.

The non-breeder pen likes their shelter.

Pequena and the angoras have trouble walking on the ice crust over the snow.

The yearlings are loving playing in the snow.

The Alpine dairy goats are hoping for some sun.

The Lamancha dairy goats prefer to stay near the shelter.

The bred ewes hang out in their shelter, but they do have to
walk down the hill for water. They need the exercise.

Boomer and George keep an eye on the western front.

Durfria was born in 1982. She's seen plenty of snow.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

It's been a winter

Right now, it's 13 degrees outside. There are 5 inches of old snow under an inch thick crust of ice that has been there for two days. The sky is low and gray, but there is no more snow predicted for a few days. However, the high is not supposed to hit freezing until the next snow arrives. I'm not complaining.

Old Durfria and the dairy goats share a comfy shelter.
Nestled in for winter at Havencroft Farm
I've said many times that this has been a perfect weather year - with four clearly defined seasons. Spring sprung wet and warm and bountiful; summer sizzled and allowed a good harvest of hay and crops; fall was glorious and winter has been WINTER. We live on the borderlands between the north and south and east and west of the US. Part of the reason we chose to settle here in the Ozarks is the four seasons and moderate weather. It's been a wintery winter, but so far, we've only had two days of below 0 temps, the snows have not been over a foot and the ice has stayed less than an inch. Moderate. We need winter to keep the parasite and insect populations at bay, to give the trees and other beings some rest and to encourage the sheep to grow thick wooly coats.

This winter did start right on schedule - the first week in December - with a big winter storm that cancelled our biggest craft show of the year, the one where many Arkansas artisans make most of our winter income. That has made the rest of the winter challenging in our community. Now, several storms later, propane prices are sky rocketing. At least many folks in our area still burn wood for heat.

The ewe flock 
The last two nights, I've been out checking on my Tillie angora goat doe, who was bred early. She's due in the next week. We don't start lambing or kidding for real until March 1. We have 11 ewes due this year and 8 does. We won't start shearing until the 10 day forecast stays above freezing.

The ice hasn't gotten too thick, and it is pretty.

And it is still only the first week in February, so we should have some winter yet to come. I'm not complaining, just observing and documenting and being thankful that I raise sheep and have lots of wool clothing. I'm just hoping that Spring puts in her appearance on schedule and I can plant my peas and potatoes on St. Patty's day, like normal.