Well, Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, and here I am sitting down to type and wondering how to express all that we are feeling here on the farm. Usually, we have family here for Thanksgiving. Our little fixer-upper farm is full to bursting! This year will be quiet. I am working on wooly projects hoping to help with expenses of yarn, etc. These projects are keeping me indoors - but soon there will be projects outdoors that will take precedence. The sun coming through the windows and hitting my arms keeps me grateful. My dogs' tails all wagging and happy to see me make me smile. My wonderful children helping and story-telling while they are working amaze me! Yes, this year was different, but still so good in so many ways. A year of focusing on what is most important.
We have formed our own traditions for many different occasions. This year, we will toast to what has been accomplished, how we have grown, the simple and rich things that we have and experience. We will be thankful for what we have to plan ahead with, our hopes and dreams, taking reality and making moments out of the ordinary and wonderful... sometimes even the sad things. This is life! We will take the time to cook, laugh, and sing together. I imagine some too-tight tap shoes will come out with a ukulele and shaker egg. If I'm lucky, Benji (our first Old Time Scotch Collie) will even join in the singing! The turkey frying will drive the dogs crazy! No doubt me too as I wait for the perfect first bite of crisp skin. As always, Mom's inspirational homemade cranberry sauce memories will color my pot to balance all the savory at the table. I am always joking about the crowdedness of the kitchen, but the truth is I wouldn't have it any other way!
My faith in our Great Provider and my family will encircle anything that I feel is missing. My belly will be full, but my heart will be bursting with gladness! The sheep will "baa" in the field in the morning calling us for chores while the roosters battle with their competing choruses. The peace of the Kerries slowly munching and wondering what the routine will be for the day will bring a certain placidness and contentedness. As my hands get cold outside, I will pet Hope and warm them on her reliably hot belly. No milking on Thanksgiving. That will have been done beforehand. What a life!
As I think about all these things I am already feeling an internal warmth of gratitude that is oh-so-easy to forget. How is it that so easily we forget what we have? The most important things are not tangible. It is with this spirit that I would invite you all to a most Happy Thanksgiving! One full of the "little things." Thanksgiving itself is almost here, but I wish to keep it in our hearts always.
Littlest Finnsheep ewe lamb meets smallest collie. Surprisingly, after a good sniff, they found that they had a lot in common!
This is a busy creating season for us... It was fun to see what the sheep think.
Tansy will get a special spot on our farm page. My goal has been to write about training Tansy so that other puppy owners or future puppy owners might glean some ideas from what we've learned! Both Benji and Lorna have had the same input to one degree or another. My style is rather eclectic, and though I've been asked to aid in some situations, I am not officially certified or schooled in any method. However, what we do here on the farm works really well for us! I've read many, many, many good books on dog training... and some bad. I've trained many different kinds of dogs also from Rhodesian Ridgeback to Staffordshire Terrier, Great Pyrenees, herding mixes, and more. Our Old Time Scotch Collies have been a joy and are easy to train. Tansy has been no different so far, and I imagine that we will post many installments as we make progress together.
Before I start, I would like say that if you expect your dog to have some grit on the farm, that you also should expect your pup/dog to challenge you on occasion. Fairness and asking and love go a long way with these dogs in communication and obedience, but occasionally, you will have to put your "foot down" and insist on your dog being consistent on commands as you are consistent in following up. Especially at the beginning as everyone is learning about this new relationship. Consistency is Key! Relationship is Key! Spend lots of time just loving on your dog and showing them that they can rely on you for direction and safely. Your dog will not turn out better than you are at making sure they understand your expectations. And we are training all the time! Whether or not we're meaning to! All important things to keep in mind.
When Tansy first came home with us, we let her settle and wander about some. Learning a new home and missing family and mom are hard. We took her around the property and talked to her as though she could understand so that she would learn our voices and heft to her new home. We right away started training at her mealtimes. The empty heart and spaces needed to be filled, and we started simply by holding a piece of kibble right next to our eyes and saying her name, "Tansy" with a smile and light and slightly higher voice. Even excitably if she was distracted. After all, her name did not yet mean anything to her! Of course, a hungry pup will look right for the kibble which gave us an edge. When you have this treasure, but then you don't give it to them, the wheels start turning. "Why?" Tansy questioned and looked right into our eyes beside the kibble. Immediately I praise her and give her the treat. In a circle we go with every member of the family doing the same act. And so the bonding begins and solid eye contact is established! (By the way, this can easily be done with older dogs that need rehabilitating as well.) Nothing significant will be accomplished without a strong connection and bond, and this is the best place that we have found to start! The eyes communicate so much more than we realize as we ask for tasks to be completed, or just are expressing how our dog's actions effect us. Perhaps this is part of why Benji and Lorna are less eager to work well when we are trying to film. "Is Mom happy?" "What's going on back there?" Tansy soon learned to bound up and look deep into our eyes even if our hands were other places. Good girl Tansy! She became a little less sad and started to give more hugs and watch faces more.
After eye contact, "Come" is easy - sometimes even taught at the same time! Eyes lock eyes at name and bounding to get treats and connect is the heart of many puppies. Tansy was no exception. "Come" is an absolutely crucial command that will be reinforced consistently for a long period of time here. This command saves lives, and it is important to be consistent from the beginning. Here is where I will introduce a line for Tansy to drag and keep the treats handy. In fact, right after receiving her, Tansy learned to drag a line. Dragging a line allows the trainer to correct most consistently with the least amount of negative impact. We all know that chasing a dog will only teach it to run, and I know that I cannot easily catch a dog no matter what the age! I never want a dog to think that moving quickly away from me is positive. And although it can be tempting depending on the trouble, never scold a pup that readily repents and comes to you when called! This is the last thing the pup did and it should be positively reinforced. I love lines for training. Tansy will not always wear her line, but she will be using this line for awhile. I can do a little tug if she does not respond to "No" when headed to the trash can, etc. And as a sidetone, puppies like to chew! Chewing the line is never OK. I will gently pop the line so it is uncomfortable in the pup's mouth and have an alternative in hand to offer her instead. Bones are great!
Now to manners. Something important to start out with in the same way as you would want them finished. Rebecca, Tansy's breeder, had already worked hard with these pups using Puppy Culture. Tansy already knew that being polite was important, but we were new people and everything was a bit overwhelming. Tansy knew that a fist above her head often held treats if she would only be calm and sit. She also knew that this was the best way to get pets and love. Lorna, however, did not come with that extra step ahead, and so we taught her from scratch. An easy thing to do! Let the pup smell the treat in you hand and raise it up ever so slightly until the pup lands in a natural sitting position when reaching for the treat. If the pup tries to climb your hand for the treat, remove the pup and gently say no. It is amazing how quickly "Sit" can be taught when you pair the word with the action and immediately give the reward when their bum hits the ground. Timing is everything!
One thing that we have learned to do differently from most. We always immediately pair a command with "Free." (We learned this from a book called Dog Training with the Touch.) With young dogs, this word immediately follows the command. As they get older, I will stretch the time between "Sit-Free," "Lay-Free," etc., asking for the pup to remain in requested position until the I say "Free," spreading out the fingers of my hands like they are mimicking an explosion - sort of like the explosion of energy from the pup after practicing being still for a time! This exercise is easier to do with a second person at first especially. Make sure you have your line on the pup so that you can efficiently put your pup back in position when learning. In essence, we never say stay with the common usage! Actually, this method is so, so, so much easier for a pup to understand in general also and gives far better results as far as we have seen. This allows the common "Stay" to be much quicker learned with far less confusion on pup's end. I will begin to give the treat after releasing pup from the position. "Free! Good girl Tansy! That was a long sit!"
Lay is next in order. Long sits are hard on the body. It's important to add lay for will-power endurance and to have something new for the pup's mind to switch between. This one is a bit tricky. I really, really, really like the dog to think that this movement is the pup's idea. It is a submissive move and one that feels like a challenge. I have found that I always get better long-term results if I ask for a lay and wait for the pup to figure out what gives that "instant" reward. For lay, I will have a flat hand with my thumb tucked under holding the treat. I try to say the word only minimally as I want the dog to not expect that much repetition is required for obedience. This is the beginning though. Some repeating and extra communication efforts will be required. I take my hand and bring it flat to the ground in this new position. (Gradually, later I will have my hand in a higher and higher position until she understands this hand signal while I am standing.) Tansy sits like a good girl, but doesn't get her treat. Hmm, she thinks. She smells and tries to push her nose under my hand which remains on the ground. She paws. This obviously needs more thought and effort. Tansy decides to get on treat level to get a better view and figure this out.... As soon as those elbows and rear hit the ground the treat appears and we lavishly praise her! There is a bit more wait time to this command as Tansy is a bit stubborn sometimes. But her lead will not allow her to leave until she fulfills her instructions and a solid "Free" following. Soon enough Tansy gets the gist and lays and sits and stays ("Free") like crazy. Eating is fun! Three meals a day. Three training sessions a day. What a life! (Not everyone can do this many. I have found two to be sufficient also.)
Lastly, I will add roll over. Roll over may seem like a silly command, but when my dogs are older, if I ask them to roll over, I know that we are all cheerful and have a great relationship. It's a position of trust. Tansy has a head-start. Benji will turn and roll for every treat he can get! He may have missed his calling as an agility dog. Tansy has watched Benji, but is still not sure that she wants to do such a silly and effort-filled action that leaves her vulnerable. I will point my finger with the treat tucked under my other fingers and draw a circle. "Roll-over!" We show her the smell and try to have her start from a laying position following the finger in a circle. Sometimes helping hands are required. She soon gets the idea, though patience is needed. Cheese makes it all worth it in the end!
Now adorable Tansy will roll over just for fun and, I think, to enchant us! Tansy has one weakness besides cheese. The laughter of children! She cannot resist a giggle or heartfelt burst of mirth! She will leave anything including cheese to come and join in the fun and laughter! She will climb to tell you she wants to be a part, to be full of the same joys together. She will smile big and hug you all over in her own very special way. I think Tansy has learned to roll like a tornado without being asked just to make us all laugh and smile. We have learned a lot together and have a long way to go, but who could ask for a better start! Good girl Tansy!!!
Pictures of Tansy learning good impulse control after getting closer to mastering a solid "lay." Notice, she is wearing her lead though! The chicken is not quite so amused.
This year, fall came at the same time as all our roving from the mill! Thank goodness our yarn came in earlier so that we could enjoy the dyeing process a bit less hastily. I've never done an online fiber festival before and am not sure what we can expect. We've had hand-dyed Finnsheep roving hanging on the exercise machine, warping board, neatly nautilused on the mini indoor trampoline, just anywhere that would be safe to dry and stay clean. To some it would look messy, but to me, it's like decorating with hope and joy - memories!
The kids have been helping. They are diligent in weighing amounts and looking for any extra vegetable matter to pull from our roving as we carefully lay the wool out to dye. I always have a dye buddy or gal. We pick and measure colors together and delight in what happens when we add hot water to dissolve. Often, we mix our own colors and record our recipe in the "Dye Notebook." I am enjoying watching them enjoy this more than anything else I think. My youngest, Peter, will carefully take the dye specific potato masher and carefully move dye past the boundaries to where we want it. I am amazed at all he has picked up and how careful he is to not agitate. John David, my next oldest, is my expert rinser and hanger. He is great with keeping the faucet turned on the the right spot to not give any change of temperature. John David is fortunate to be the first one seeing the roving out of water and semi dry from the salad spinner that we use. I think this keeps him motivated to enjoy his job. Elizabeth and Arianna, my second and first born, help with the actual dyeing and laying out. I love that we all get to enjoy this process together! My husband, of course, gets main cheerleader position which is much needed. Second eyes are most helpful. I think our feeling of greatest success is when no one can decide which yarn or roving is their favorite!
In the meantime, I don't have as much time as I would like to spend enjoying leaves or inspirational colors out of doors. The sheep and I don't get to visit as much, but we get to enjoy a Shepherd's Harvest and color in different ways. I hear the "baa's" and still can't resist all the time. I love to go to our closest set of Finns - my growing Spring ewe lambs. They always draw me to them. Somehow sheep born on the farm are so much more hefted and confident in their love and belonging than sheep that are brought in. They know who they are. They know their land and shepherds.
All of my Finnsheep are one flock owned by multiple little and big shepherds. This time through as I visit the Spring ewe lambs, I find that Cornflower and Maimie are especially attentive and happy to see me! All the girls come to visit, but these two tell me how much they have missed me. They lean in for more hugs and scratches. Elizabeth, my daughter, is with me, and Cornflower has been raised by her. She has rubbed Cornflower's belly from day one. She has lifted Cornflower to sit to practice for shearing and lifted hooves just to help her Spring lamb to be used to such routines. Cornflower thinks that all of this is lovely. More ways to be petted. And her naturally short Finn tail wags full of joy anytime a hand comes back in the petting or scratching rhythm. I watch my daughter loving on her ewe while I pet Arianna's lamb Maimie. My joy is so full and beyond explanation!
Yes, it's those joys and memories that we bring back inside with us. They run through our hands and back up to our hearts as we feel and measure our lovely sheep's gifts of wool. Those memories and joys are what paint the colors in our rovings and dyes, as we smile and laugh together about our visit to the lambs and our hopes and dreams for them. I hear another "baa" through the window, and my heart swells. Shepherding in the way that we do is not a particularly lucrative business. I do not know what to expect this year especially. But I do often think that we are the richest family in the world!
Well, I used to always have Benji sleep by my side of the bed inside. He and I are shadow buddies. I always felt that if I were super busy, this was one thing I could always offer him. His special place beside me through the night. We both loved the arrangement. But sadly, the farm's needs became greater and greater. Chickens were being attacked in the night. I knew I had to let my practical side win and let Benji work the night shift. I wondered how the loss of our long moment of rest together would change things.
It's cool and exciting out in the Virginia mountains at night! The coyotes have moved back in but have been respectful thus far. I have read that if you remove a respectful coyote tribe, that a more aggressive one may replace them. So far, we have not had any major complaints - we being the humans - and so we leave them in peace. Lorna has her say with them and scolds vehemently and Benji who is a bit calmer about the whole thing backs her up. The coyotes seem to listen to the dogs and maintain their distance for now. Tansy is usually in bed by then, but certainly doesn't sleep soundly when she hears all the worrisome ruckus.
I have a confession to make. I miss Benji beside me at night. His comfort and friendship. His silent sleep with watchful senses. Enjoying the cozy together. But I love having eggs! Benji seems grateful for the cool outdoors. His coat keeps him very comfortable. I do believe that snow is his favorite weather as he loves playing sled games with the kids! I miss his presence that I am somehow aware of while I am sleeping, but I sleep better knowing that my healthy hens are not dinner for some other marauding critter. I am sad when Benji smells like skunk, but am happy that this means I will not catch that same skunk (many lost eggs and dead chickens later) in the live trap and wonder how to safely resolve the situation. I am very happy to not be skunked literally and figuratively! I know that when noises happen during the night, unless Benji sounds a certain alarm bark, I can peacefully sleep knowing that all will be well. No more bad dreams of chicken mauling or dreading going out in the morning to assess the night's damage. Instead, we collect more eggs and say "Good Dog Benji." He seems to know and though I know he misses me, Benji is always so grateful for work and proving himself useful.
I sometimes wonder what Benji thinks as we tuck the pup into bed and bring Lorna in for the night. (Lorna would love to have her turn, but we've had her heats to consider.) I see him sit like a king. Sad to see us go, but proud. We have only lost chickens on one night since we've brought them in as chicks. This was the night that we had not followed our new routine, and we learned the hard way. A momentary lapse of memory and duty. Benji seems to be always on duty. So when he is there, somehow we are still close. He understands that this is what I need. I understand that this is fulfilling for him. The closeness we have transcends physical distance.
In the morning, when I go to him at the side door, he always greets me with enthusiasm. He is a very snuggly and hug-filled dog. Stretches and conversations ensue as he articulates in his own way the tales of the night. The unobtrusive sounds this dog tries to talk in the morning always amuse us! I do think he wishes so badly that we would actually understand his words. But he loves us anyway. Even when we just pat him on the head and give him the same greetings day to day. Love is enough.
A couple of days ago, this was all the same. The greetings, stretches, our conversation, hugs. Nothing unusual. I had no reason to suspect that there was anything different about that day. Life continued on until late in the morning when I walked out the front door - not my usual exit. There right next to the side walk Benji had left me his gift. He had taken out another of the coon family that had been attempting to steal eggs, kill chickens, and rip open feed sacks. Benji is no-nonsense and all was done with no noise or sound during the night or early morning that we heard. He simply left us the evidence and did not make a fuss. That's our Benji. He is full of surprises!
I often wonder at all the things that he has done that we are not aware of. The animals listen to him at a respectful distance. they are not eager to run or come too close unless Benji says. They trust him. He has been faithful, even if he is bossy at times. When Benji barks, they look in the direction that he is pointed and head away. I think they are aware of his scouting talents. His powerful mind and nose is calming for us all. Running the fence lines is his way of checking up on the order of nature beyond and sending a message of what belongs to who. Much of Benji's gift to us is this security and calm. Through his barks, he brings peace. When he is still, all is well. When he is joyful, the very air hums with happy!
I still miss him beside my bed, but I think somehow protecting the farm makes him a different sort of happy and fulfilled. I cannot provide him with the same comforts outdoors as I can indoors. The pillows are still there, but the company is not. But somehow, this reign of the night is all his own and he relishes it! Here is Benji's world, and he will keep it safe for those he loves. King Benji rules the night, and somehow our common purpose and goals bring us even closer than a simple matter of distance.
I am sure that every shepherd has an inclination towards his or her own chosen breed of sheep. Perhaps we all think that our breed is the best. I’m not sure that there is a perfect breed out there, but I do think that multipurpose Finnsheep have certainly made our family proud and happy shepherds. We know that they are the perfect sheep for us. Perhaps they will be a good fit for you too!
To give a little background, we are a small family farm operating on 57 acres in SouthWest Virginia. My children all are developing their own small flocks of Finnsheep under parental supervision. This is a chosen family activity, and we evaluate our choices and goals often to keep things happy and as efficient as possible. We usually carry between 30-50 Finns and crosses at a time, depending on where we are in the rhythm of the farm. We ask that our sheep hold true to the breed in profitability, soundness, prolificacy, fleece quality, sound udders, maternal instincts, ease of handling, and general hardiness. We do carefully feed to support the high numbers of lambs and quality fleeces that we desire. Our sheep remain on pasture and are rotated as needed. We follow some unusual protocols for mineral supplementation, offering a large selection to promote self-supplementation based on individual needs. In tandem with our vet, we do use carefully measured copper supplementation to enhance worm resistance, maintain sound feet, darker or just finer fleeces, and better overall growth. We believe that this is a key contributor to our program.
Now, down to the Finns themselves! They, as reputed, are such a friendly and easy to manage sheep! Very sweet natured and loving, they cannot resist the constant waggling of tail anytime someone reaches to pet them. My children have had delightful experiences halter breaking these lambs as all they have needed to do is slip on halter, wiggle fingers, sheep walks up to be pet, repeat!
As moms, Finns tend to have many lambs. Perhaps this is why they are on occasion nanny sheep. We have had many moms co-raise, attempt to adopt other Finns’ lambs, or just nurture bottle babies through the gate. We had a sextuplet lambing here on our farm and were amazed at how well the mother could clean and attend to the lambs on her own. We were there for back-up, but she managed quite well, and all were up and mobile in short order. This same ewe lambed in a stall the following year without our awareness. When we got to the barn, we found that she had quintuplets all up and dried and fed on her own! Needless to say, we were quite relieved and pleased with her attentiveness. Finns can raise up to 3-4 lambs on their own at a time with good nutrition, but we will supplement and watch carefully if numbers increase beyond the ewe’s limit. I will say that Finn lambs are born small for obvious reasons, but that they do grow well with the proper input. Minerals, again, are superbly important for both parents and lambs. On our farm, we find that twins to quads seem to be a more normal numeric expectation. Bottle buckets, creep feeder stalls, and extra Finn moms really help with raising all the sweet lambs, but if the surrogate moms are not interested in sharing, little Finn lambs get creative at snatching extra snacks! Those little Finn “maaa” calls capture our hearts every time and make Spring one of the most delightful times of year!
After lambing, we always give special attention to the lambs and the moms to bring them to tip-top condition. All those hungry babies take a toll! We feed pasture as long as we have it through the year and get grain from a local supplier freshly milled. Ratios will vary depending on needs, and we usually separate the lambs from their mothers no sooner than 3 months. Our goal is to have sheep that grow out sustainably for our farm and customers. We like to have sheep that will reach a reasonable size with soundness and alluring fleece while not sacrificing udder strength, multiple birthing abilities, maternal qualities, hardiness, friendliness, etc. In short, we want all that the Finn has to offer! Finns are supposed to be light boned and have a heritage woven deep into Finnish history. They are not your typical commercial lamb but can make a nice and reasonable meld of both worlds with care. I think our breeding program is aiming towards that moving target all the time, but we certainly have much to learn from others and our sheep as we continue to build on the best foundations that we can find. This Fall, we are measuring and are pleased with our Spring lambs. Many of them coming from multiple births, and most weighing easily over 100 lbs. Those high number births with smaller lambs seem to even out in the end.
Friendly fleeces from soft sheep, or soft fleeces from friendly sheep? Even though Finn fleeces are on the fine side of medium for grade of wool, the tips of these fleeces are not crunchy, but rather sleek, often with sheen, and quite malleable. These soft and compliant locks are easily spun into a yarn that both tends not to poke and wears well. I often think our next-to-skin soft Finn yarn is highly preferable to fine fleeced yarn as, though Finn has a slight bloom, the yarn is durable and does not quickly deteriorate or pill as a finer knit yarn item might. Finn seems to be the best compromise between the juxtaposed wool worlds and offers a great balance for those looking for a long lasting yarn that is still soft enough for any use. They keep an attractive and interesting lock structure, and then there are all those colors!!! Greys, blacks, white, browns, and spots! Dalmatian spots, piebald spots, or lovely badger markings. These sheep are easy on the hands and eyes! I think that their friendly personality must come out in their fleeces.
If you are blessed enough, you will be able to find something that resounds deeply enough in the fiber of your hand and heart to commit to and bring contentment. We were fortunate to find Finns early enough to enjoy them together as a family. Shepherding these sheep has been a delightful and very meaningful experience for us. These sheep are not just stock here, and I think this may be what they excel at the most: They are the most peaceful and loving of friends.
Big news! We've had these plans in store for a while, but have been patiently waiting for their completion. Introducing our new Old Time Scotch Collie and SCPS (drum roll...... ) Tansy! Tansy is from the fabulous Sunshine x Hunter line of collie. Rebecca Sylvester (located in Maine) bred and raised these pups with experience and skill standing behind her. These pups had all the advantages of exploration, diverse genetics, family socialization, puppy culture, herding mentors, genetic testing, and more! Our little girl comes with a huge head start because of all of Rebecca's work. Thank you Rebecca Sylvester! Most of you know I'm a big story girl. Well, Rebecca's Sunshine has the stories to back her up and Hunter fits the bill. Also the previous litter from this pairing have proven excellence thus far.
Tansy had a daunting start. Coming all the way down from Maine to SW VA is a long trip! We are so thankful for Mark Ryman helping us along the way and transporting our Tansy as far as PA to his home with the pup of his daughter's selection. Folks, these are kind people! And owners of the grandparents of our new pup. Getting to see family lines is very important to us, and they did not disappoint. (Another big Thank You to the Ryman family!) I think that Tansy had already beguiled their son into loving her and goodbyes were both happy and a bit sad. She had traveled the first half of her trip beautifully and got to meet with and play with her grands.
Next step was personal. We opted to not crate Tansy for the rest of the trip. The Rymans said she loved looking out windows. Well, she did, but we found that four enticing kids in the back seat were much more of a distraction. I was so happy with her calm nature right from the get go. We made sure she was worn out and had all her needs met before we took off, and she opted to sleep right between our girls making sure that her chin rotated between each of their laps. Apparently, collies are on duty even when they are sleeping.
When Tansy woke up, she gave a few short whines. We had been informed that she was wonderfully close to being potty trained. (In fact, she has not had an accident here yet so far!) We had no choice but to pull off on the busy highway with trucks zooming by creating the feeling of warring air tunnels. I took Tansy out and held her for a short time giving her a chance to acclimate. Then I set her down slowly. No whines or fear. A bit of wonder and sniffing and calmly getting down to business. And that was how the routine was for the remainder of the trip! What a steady and good girl! My boys then took their turn building forts for her in the backseat and offering Tansy bits of feather and sticks that they had collected to entertain. All was fully appreciated by our new girl.
The things we have learned about Tansy so far:
#1 and most importantly: Tansy is a nanny dog. She loves kids. I mean they are her world!
#2 She is steady and watchful. She will model what she sees (as described by her breeder). Yesterday for family photos, Benji and Lorna were asked to lay. Tansy was already sitting and laying for us on day two! I didn't know she was even paying much attention. I will have to watch what I am teaching!
#3 She has grit. Even with all the new of a family, location, new doggie family too, etc., she is ready to check out sheep through gates and is not afraid. I have informed her that we have a long way to go before we begin this part of our journey, but am happy that she is eager and unafraid and very content to just walk away and leave them also. In the meantime, Benji is babysitting Tansy in a stall while the sheep are fed so she can learn and watch the routine already. She watches Lorna work also. Lorna has become her substitute mother and is trying to tempt her with sticks and teach her all things gentle and play. I love watching Lorna trying to help her and guide her. They have a special bond already. Benji holds a certain awe for Tansy, however, and she loves to prance around after or overtop of him. Benji does not mind in the slightest! How good it is to be king!
#4 which perhaps should have been number two. Cheese is best. Cheese is the bestest. Cheese please please cheese the bestest in the world!
We are not the faithful gardeners that we would like to be. I've said time and again that we can only focus on so much at once, and we grow the wool. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my veggies, and we plant more than we are able to maintain well in the earth nearly every year. I still get to put some abundance away here and there every summer. We do, however, get to faithfully glean from our wooly gardens!
To prepare before shearing season, every day is spent with a bit of evaluation and contemplation for our wooly gardens: How are the minerals? Have caloric needs changed? Is our co-grazing working for the health of the fields and peace of all involved species? Oh no - Is that burdock coming to attack and stick in fleeces? Is it time to rotate etc., etc., etc. A farmer always looks for the thing on the top of the list.
Keeping hay out of fleeces in the winter is a real thing. Some people put coats on their sheep which seems like a great idea... but for expense, time, and the fact that we do live in the South and humidity plus coats often leads to felting. Plus, Finns have wonderfully easy-care fleeces that tend to shed much of the VM, etc. As a side note - If you plan to keep sheep for wool, remember this: the lower the hay, the less VM (vegetable matter) you get in the fleece. Sheep eat overtop and under and squeeze in from the side to get their little snacks and nibbles. Low feeders prevent chaff in the Spring fleeces which tend to suffer the consequences. We often use a high quality round bale with a configured cattle panel to keep the hay intact and clean inside while pushing the sheep away from falling fiber matter. I'm am sure that there are better ways that I have not yet discovered, but this seems to suit our numbers and needs for now. During the lambing season, the littles will often crawl inside for some much loved bed and breakfast time. It's a sweet time of year! I love the Spring, and the fleeces are nice with some thought to management, etc., but Fall is where my Wooly Garden shines!
Last year, a very kind shepherd friend of ours gifted the kids with some retired and beloved blade shears - all in varying conditions and sizes. Well, my children have all wanted to shear! This was elating to them! And this Fall, they were able to live those dreams and graduate from shearing angora rabbits to their very own Finn flocks.
And now we enter into the moment. Our wooly friends have been carefully washed on stands and the electronet fencing is set up in our yard waiting to receive the freshly washed wooly friends who are turned out to dry. The other sheep faithfully mow while they wait to get their transforming baths. The first-timer Spring lambs complain a bit at first until they realize that the itchy accumulation of dirt and some lanolin are being rinsed away. Occasionally, we'll find a neglected thistle or other debris wound into their wool, and we dislodge it. The older sheep mostly seem to know the drill and settle into their contented state awaiting the primping and manicuring. They know that soon they will be breezy free and that this process will soon free them from all the locked in itchies that have begun to plague them. They know that we work admiring their gift and giving extra scratches and love. Many of our sheep don't even need the stand, but stands make the work easier on our backs, etc. The stands are not always available, however, and so the rams are often tied to a convenient tree. Most will stand stock still for shearing. And the most exciting part about this year - everyone can help!
I watch as my daughters and sons carefully part the fleece to start the clip. The wool "waste" has been removed and will be not wasted but used for felting or dryer balls or compost or mulch depending. Straight down the backline they move to get a line of entrance, then clipping carefully down the sides as cascades of beautifully dry and perfect Finn fleece is freed from the patient sheep. I am always amazed by the colors underneath. Growing fleeces may be tipped with gold by the sun; the fleece may have hidden treasure underneath. We all stand to help catch the soft treasure as it is peeled back with the quiet and slow snip-snip-snip sound that humbly pronounces the great reveal. I am amazed by my children's confidence as they move with exact precision along the anatomy of our beloved friends. There is an unspoken awe in the air. A silent joy but for the occasional bleating as the sheep inquire as to their new routine on occasion.
This year Ida-Down-Dilly, a black Spring ewe, is being shorn for the first time. Ida has been rubbed all over since the beginning of her life. She is used to people picking up feet for fun, hugging her belly, rubbing underneath and will gleefully follow for love and the occasional botanical treat. She is puzzled by the new routine. We put Ida on the stand and begin. She has already been washed... a process which she is not sure she needed, but apparently did not put her off enough to be worried about shearing. The clip begins. My husband makes short work of her underbelly wool with the electric shears... a bit short for use, but remarkably clean. We might be able to save this for something later. The electric shears give her a start! Loud and warm, vibrations tickle through her whole body. Yes, this is not something Ida approves of, and she is not afraid to let us know! This is quickly done, however, with no damage and Ida settles down as the slow snip-snip-snip begins. We talk to her, telling her how beautiful she is. Tall shepherds reach into the covering branches for leaves to offer as treats. Pretty soon, Ida-Down-Dilly is sure she must be in the best place in the whole world! Scratches, cool, treats, family loving and surrounding her. She still glories in this as the last bit of fleece is removed and her feet are clipped.
When Ida is let off the stand, she shakes and is surprised to see that her skin is so light and breezy. She looks to her shepherd in curiosity. She seems a little unsure of herself, and follows her Elizabeth to the chair that holds her fleece. She sniffs. And sniffs again. And looks back at us in wonder. And sniffs again with a nibble. We then take her just that little bit further to her friends. Ida looks back at us in gratitude, then bounces up the slight hill to play and show-off her new found freedom. And we are left with her abandoned soft black gold.
Yes, the shearing season is full of work and pleasure. Seeing our babies thriving, enjoying their emerging personalities and delights, feeling and smelling that sweet wool from their person which also springs from our pasture and care. Dreaming of skipping through the fields or walking the city streets with Ida-Down-Dilly in our hearts and on our sleeves. Fall is a time of great harvest for the shepherd. Clean wool abounds, happy sheep skip lightly on their feet, and our hearts swell with the bliss of it all!
Well, I have written about my good working farm dogs for awhile on our FB Farm page. I figure that I should start giving these stories a better suited home. Forgive me for bringing you in not-from-the beginning. The beginning was a while ago and the now is fresh for writing. Here's to new beginnings! The story below is called "Sheep Monopoly."
Fall on the farm is busy! So many stories slip past never written, but they never seem to stop happening! Like the coon family that kept ripping open feed sacks that Benji and Lorna have been eradicating one at a time. Or the skunk that, thankfully, the dogs alerted us to without assuming the very likely consequences without a sound set of lay and stay skills!
Everyone gets excited on the farm in Fall. The dogs turn about barking and playing and chasing each other like a furry tornado of spinning leaves. They are exhilarated by the change in air and temperature and assume their new tempos in perfect time.
It’s not just the dogs though. It’s time to settle the ewes. Pens have been carefully planned and the rams introduced. The dogs routinely shadow us during chores in case any of the hormonal boys get any nasty ideas in their heads. My children can feel comfortable in the animal paddocks with such faithful friends watching their backs. Even so, sometimes a ram will lose its head and begin to be foolish. Today, one did.
Oh - the rams know better than to mess with the kids, but today one decided to continuously pummel an innocent ewe. Why? Who knows. Frustration at breeding season is an uncertain thing. My Finn rams are fairly predictable. This ram was not a Finn and was not in the mood to question his own drives. Perhaps he wanted the ewe’s share of food, or perhaps he was frustrated that she was already bred? All we knew is that his behavior had to stop right then! The other day when this happened, Benji stepped right up to the plate in no-nonsense fashion and drove this ram into a stall for safety’s sake. Today was Lorna’s turn. We knew that this ram would need to be put directly into the same stall - “Go directly to jail! Do not pass go. Do not collect $200 of grain.” type of deal! All went well. The other sheep were eating in peace while the ram was separated and we were able to care for them as they needed. Until… Offending Ram decided no gate was too strong for him! Apparently, his grain was not good enough for him. He wanted it all! Where was that $200 fodder?
Lorna typically lays while the sheep eat. They are accustomed to her presence and eat peacefully. Today was different. Today, Lorna pounced to action. The ram thought the gate would make a difference to their relationship. Even though Lorna was standing at the closed gate and barking, Offending Ram head-butted full force on our steel gate. Lorna was not deterred. Using that wonderfully problem solving brain of hers, she quickly amended her plan and decided to nip that great wooly head through the gate and demanded order! Offending Ram was stunned… then thought better of his blatant lack of respect and decided glowering in the back of the stall was a much better plan since that promise of stolen goods seemed impossible with such a furry dog wall in the way. Apparently “Dog-Wall” was stronger that the steel gate that he had quickly bent in 2-3 blows. How could that be? Lorna stood to hold the line while Offending Ram was considering his lack of options.
In the end, the ewes ate in peace and were happily released to pasture again. Offending Ram was released humbled, while our family walked back to the house in safety. Offending Ram will not be here much longer. Such is the way of things on the farm, but Benji and Lorna will stay. They will pass go and beyond, and we will never be able to compensate them for all that they give us. One could say that Sheep Monopoly is their game, but this is not exactly true. They only act with this force when needed. Just yesterday, Lorna was licking one of our ewe’s ears. Our collies want to be friends, but are not afraid to practice tough love. I feel, however, that the word “friend” is not strong enough.
Forsythia is commonly sold as a landscaping bush, but little did I know its edible qualities until now! We were looking up natural DIY health medicine, when my Mom saw a friend's post on Facebook. It was a cough-syrup recipe, and of course we all had to try making it, especially with it being the right time, and us owning some bushes!
Forsythia is a medium to large sized bush. In Spring, these bushes explode with lovely split-trumpet shaped yellow blossoms. These flowers have a fragrant smell, reminiscent to the smell of Jasmine-vine flowers. The decorative and bright-green leaves of these plants are slightly serrated around the edges, and the leaf is shaped like a knife. If left to their own devises, these bushes grow long thin hanging stems, with smooth bark. Usually these stems are a light-brown color, with occasional speckling.
I will give the recipe site here, which my Mom found at her friend's post: puretraditions.com/forsythia-syrup-recipe/. Next time I get sick I can experiment now!
This blog chronicles our very full life here on WoodSong Farm. We will share everything from dog to sheep stories, unique wooly works, to animal husbandry tips we pick up along the way. I hope this helps to give you an idea of what our extended farm family and wooly projects are like, and that we may somehow benefit everyone who reads about our journey.