Friday, January 17, 2014

Taking the plunge

      We have sold our first few dozen eggs this week.  Yeah! The chickens are starting to pay for themselves!  Okay, who am I kidding? They will take years to pay for the start up costs of lumber and hardware for the coop, and the continuing costs of feed and electricity.    However, $2.50 at a time, they are starting to earn their keep.
      The real reason to get the chickens was a) to have something on the farm so we do not lose the RA40 zoning, and b) to get us into the idea of having to be at the farm a minimum of twice a day, every day.  They are our practice animals.  They have been teaching us how to be farmers.  Now comes the real deal.
      We are about to put the deposit down on the lambs.  We were originally advised that a good size for a starter flock would be six sheep - two rams and four ewes.  This way we have two sets of male genes to switch around, and having two rams mean there is never a lonely sheep during the times when the boys are separated from the girls. However, this was a touch out of our budget, and we are going for two rams and three ewes.  We will still have two different sets of genes from the boys, just one less girl, so a few less lambs in our first lambing season.
     The emotional part of me wants many lambs, with a wide choice of fiber colours, but the practical person says no.  This is better.  Going over budget on the livestock means there is not money for something else down the line.  Where would we scrimp?  Fencing?  No.  Medications, or feed, or hay?  No, no, and no.  This is the right way to do it. Since Finnsheep tend to have twins and triplets most of the time, and litters occasionally, starting smaller may be better.  If three ewes have just two lambs each, we will more than double the size of the flock right off the bat.
     So tonight I am writing the check to reserve the lambs that will become our flock.  We will not see them until late Spring, but like having a baby, we have so much to do before their arrival!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I Gotta See a Gal About a Sheep...

     Today, my husband, our youngest son, and I went to see a lady about some sheep.  We drove north about 2 hours to visit Stillmeadow Farm, where Elizabeth Kinne Gossner raises registered purebred Finnsheep.   We had been talking about other types of sheep, but somehow (I cannot remember exactly how) my husband saw Finnsheep and started becoming interested in them.  So, we visited Elizabeth's farm today, and saw her rams (three of them) as well as her girls, (seventeen of them, all pregnant) and got a general "feel" for the breed.
     Her flock is very sweet - docile, friendly, or at least respectful, depending on the ewe, with lovely fleece.
You can see the variety of fleece colours from white to silver, tan to black

"Do his bangs taste good?"

Chillin' with the girls

Using Cream Top as a pillow, while her mom checks him out.

A hug before leaving
   We were really impressed by Elizabeth's flock, her dedication to strong bloodlines and a disease free sheep, as well as her knowledge and willingness to educate us.   Before heading out to the barns, we chatted for a while and she showed us her five spinning wheels, talked about her pottery (Yes, she is a potter), as well as telling me the felting method she uses to produce her lovely felted purses.  Before leaving her farm, she had given my son one of her hand thrown coffee mugs, and me two different one ounce batts of fiber from her sheep. Her reasoning?  "You're going to buy sheep from me.  I'm buttering you up."
     We are hoping to purchase some of her lambs come Spring.  Keep you posted. 

St. Distaff Day

     January 7 is Roc Day, or Distaff Day, or St. Distaff Day.  It was the day that women went back to their spinning work after the twelve days of Christmas were completed.  I must admit, to me, January 7 is the day the Christmas tree comes down.
     Friday, my husband spoke to a shepherd near Ithaca about her Finnsheep and the possibility of us buying some in the Spring.  They had a lengthy conversation, and we are visiting her farm today,  she invited me to come up yesterday for the Roc Day celebration her spinning guild holds.  As it was pouring rain yesterday, I really did not feel like driving out nearly two hours to go to this celebration.  However, since it was pouring rain outside yesterday, it was perfect for spinning on my own, at home.
    I pulled out the batts of Faroe Island wool that I have had for about a year now.  These sheep are a northern European short tail type, closely related to Icelandic sheep (another breed I am interested in).  I have never spun Faroe or Icelandic wool, so I gave it a go.   The results are interesting and it has been really helpful to start this now.  The wool is courser than much of what I normally spin.  It has a fair amount of kemp and, unfortunately,  this batt is full of vm.  I can see this making a nice blanket, or a sweater that you wear a turtleneck under.  It is not a "next to the skin"  wool, but I kind of like it.
I love the silver and grey variations
large pieces of straw aw well as foxtails and seeds

Spinning up nicely, but you can see the prickly,
itchy fibers standing out from the yarn.
 If this is a similar to Icelandics as I have read, I am now not certain I want to raise them for fiber. I am still really enamoured of the Black Welsh Mountain sheep, but have not done a fiber test on them.  Shetlands are a dream sheep for fiber, so they are still in the running, but Finnsheep with their tendency to have litters of lambs, not just twins, may be a good starting place.  I will tell you more after we come back from the sheep farm today.
     So a belated happy Roc Day to all the spinsters out there.  Have a wonderful new year.