Well, the girls have shorn the rabbits and put a good stash of Angora wool away for the next batch of grey and white yarns. I think that our rabbits certainly enjoy having their new easy-care do's. We just had a frozen fog which I never knew existed until last night - gorgeous! The ground is lovely white outside now, and the bunnies are all snug and warm with no reason to worry. I love how their wool combines with the Cormo and Finnsheep! Perhaps we'll try combining this with CVM also this coming year. Has anyone every tried this combo? So far, I've loved every angora yarn that we have had come back from the mill. The Finn Angora is so soft and with a blue sheen, while the Cormo is just so cottony and squishy. Winter certainly has its perks when it comes to enjoying halos of yarn! And apparently Easter is not the only time for enjoying bunnies!!!
The day was lovely, and the sun was bright, and so what does any sheep farmer want to do but go out and check the sheep and do maintenance? Well, OK. Not all of us, and certainly not as often as it needs to be done, but it was time, and the weather was accommodating. Our rams were due for their regulars.
This time through, we decided for whatever reason to not use the barn to corral and hold them. Don't ask me why... maybe it was just nice to be in the sun or maybe we were just hard-headed (likely!), and their position was convenient! My dog of choice was Benji this time. Many of his stories had happened in this exact same field and in this very spot. Somehow, it just felt like good old times come back to life again.
Benji and I share a special bond when it comes to work. When I open the gate and he knows that we are going to work, he will sing me his uniquely special happy song and dance a circle around my feet in anticipation. Then he settles right into my collected right-hand-dog. Down to business.
Just walking through the field beside me to keep me safe from suspicious rams is a delightful errand, but this time, I needed Benji for his incredible read and intuition on stock. And his reliable biddability. The wethers and rams were easily grouped together for John to check and do what needed doing. I stayed on the outside of the group with my dog. For awhile, you can count on just a presence of a dog being a distraction from trouble-making. This time through, that period was short. Apparently, the boys wanted to frolic in the sun that day also!
Benji is excellent at holding the sheep in a corner for us. Our needs were different for this chore though. Let me explain the complications: This was a very rounded and open ended field "corner" with a 20' section of trees before you get to an actual fence line. there were many easy routes of escape, and John needed the rams out in the open to be able to see and work. That is enough reason to have a very subtle and intuitive dog concerning pressure, but this time through, the rams were feeling rather frisky and like this sunny day was cause for play and celebration.... With my husband in the very center of the group! Yes - A barn would have been easier!
So picture my husband checking feet, giving supplements, etc. in the middle of rams wanting to mount whichever ram he's holding at the time, etc. Without scattering the group, Benji would have to manage to keep their undivided attention for John's safety. A difficult task indeed, and one that I had to manage to communicate. But Benji and I have learned to really work well together and understand so much about how each other moves and thinks - a true sign of what we want in our collies!
But this was to be a very delicate set of dance moves. Quite the challenge to our skill set. Of all our dogs here, Benji is most responsive to minuscule flock movements, individual animal behaviors, and my direction. The quiet calm before the brewing storm was easy. Benji set them in that open ended corner giving them lots of room to breath without giving them a reason to dash through the woods. We waited together while John started working through with the most difficult rams to start. The rams were a bit antsy, but Benji and I kept their attention by dancing carefully on our end to make sure they watched us instead of strategizing for other cantankerous activities.
Well, that all worked fine and dandy until John had completed work on the more difficult rams who were eager to bully anyone who was being held... and also putting John at risk. Benji was still not quite sure what was going on, as usually his job is just to hold these boys in place. I asked him to dance a series of up and back, lay and stand, a mix of eager and placid gestures in hopes of keeping the sheep confused... on their toes. In essence, bringing pressure forward not quite to the point of breaking up the group, and then moving back just enough for them to relax, but not enough to play shenanigans. Well, this certainly kept Benji and I on our toes! We watched everything so carefully calling on every skill of intuition that we could muster. He obeyed and then immediately was called off - pondering what we were doing and learning all at the same time. Benji danced away!
In the end no sheep was brutalized. John was able to complete his task safely. The big rams tried to break away, but Benji was able to put them back carefully without making the whole flock scatter in his gentle but decisive way. I think Benji really got the hang of "protect John and hold the sheep." I was drawing movements with my finger not even realizing what I was doing. Suddenly, I realized that Benji was following the drawings of my finger! He had figured out my chaotic directions and was working in synchrony! That is the wonder of Benji that we have here!!! I decided to stop drawing and told Benji it was up to him now. Bingo! He had it! No brusque or quick movements. He was the puppeteer, and the rams were his playthings! I stood back in awe.
Benji is not one for high praise for a job. It confuses him. Why praise a child for eating ice-cream? Benji's reward is working in the field with me. Still, I always thank him and talk to him. Whether or not he understands, he knows that I am pleased and that this is my way of telling him with a few special rubs and pats just where he likes them. Our job was done. Benji is as eager to call off for me as he is to work. "With Me" is probably his favorite command. And so he walked with me out of the peaceful pasture with the sun in all its glory.
Well, many of you have asked when Lorna will be due to have her next (first) litter. I must confess that I have withheld information in hopes of not getting everyone's hopes dashed if we were not successful. What a saga this has been and totally unexpected!
We are happy to say that Lorna has passed our requirements for becoming a breeding dog here at the East side of Shepherd's Hearth (our kennel shared with the knowledgable and wonderful Kendy Sawyer!) Lorna is a wonderful farm worker, hunts vermin, watches the sky, even points and alerts to sick stock in the field!!! We've had Lorna's hips tested (PENN hip (Right DI = 0.38, Left DI = 0.36)) and she was also genetically tested per Embark panel (n/m CEA, n/m MDR1) to confirm that we will be hopefully creating healthy and helpful working and companion dogs. Lorna will be two years old this coming February and has already previously cycled.
Needless to say, this cycle around, Benji - our stud (PENN hip (Right DI = 0.34, Left DI = 0.33) and Embark n/n for entire panel) was eager to finally have an opportunity to do his job. Lorna, however, had different ideas. Some of you may recall that Benji sacrificed his studly appeal to a skunk in the grand gesture of saving our chickens last time Lorna was in heat. This time through, there was no excuse so far as we were aware. The most important window in the heat cycle is short, and we knew that now was not the time to just "wait and see." After chatting online and on the phone with a few other OTSC breeders (Thank you so much everyone!!!!!), we decided to go ahead and take more drastic measures to assure the best chance of this pairing taking place. Though it is slimly possible that a short tie took place without our intervention, holding for a breeding was clearly not going to happen, as Lorna was not in favor of the matchmakers' choice or perhaps desired to remain a maiden. Benji, though eager, is also very considerate and wanting to schmooze the relationship along. If Lorna would yelp at all, Benji would stop and come to check Lorna's face sniffing with big concerned eyes. Who could resist that face? Well, we know who!
And so, our new adventure involved driving 1.5 hours one way to the closest Reproductive Veterinarian Specialist which happened to be at Virginia Tech. We can claim that we drove uphill both directions in the snow a few times, but that is beside the point and perhaps, though true, a wee bit dramatic. Several questions and appointments later, we are left with a solemn figure of 80% success rate and with the knowledge that both Lorna and Benji were both more than accommodating for the vets to perform the side-by-side AI that had to happen. Apparently AI (at VT who seem to have better than the norm of success rates per their staff) with dogs is far more successful than it would be with sheep or cows. Can I get excited yet?
Needless to say, there is a lot of watchfulness of Lorna around here. How much is Lorna eating? Is she still hungry? (Don't worry... we know not to increase her intake at this point.) Should we measure her belly? Has her attitude changed? Lorna is always a hugging dog. So humbly sweet, ducking her head and hugging her body around your legs while she crawls into your heart with her most beguiling eyes. Is she becoming more intense in anyway or even more bossy? All these answers I hesitate to say aloud for fear of creating false hopes. But we can't help but hope!!!
Lorna's projected due date per VT and blood work tracking her progesterone levels would be February 15th - Just around Valentine's Day! It appears that Shepherd's Hearth may have another set of holiday pups... "may" I reaffirm to myself. And so, we wait together. Lambing will come first with plenty to distract us. When the exhaustion and main suspense of this is finally complete, we will have more solid answers about what Lorna may be hiding. In the meantime, hope but don't, wait but don't, pick names but don't, plan a puppy birth room but don't - We are so excitedly not getting our hopes up!
There's so much hype about moving into 2021 and bounding out of 2020. I get that! Our business has struggled also. I have teenagers who are not able to have a normal social life, etc. My 15 year old will be 16 before she can even get her driver's permit due to the DMV waitlist! My boys have pacified themselves with perfecting rubber-band hunting (of their sisters!), trying to snare turkeys, or other random and boyish projects. Lately, they've learned to tan hides which delights me to no end! But wait - is this suppose to be a list of the downsides?
OK, so reevaluating. The wool business has struggled, but I've had more time with my kids and enjoyed them more (as long as I can get off of marketing on the computer.) They have been able really dig into some deep personal interests like learning to paint with acrylics and oils or helping with construction projects in a more meaningful way. Peter is doing so, so, so much better in reading - a used-to-be-sore subject here indeed! We preemptively are pursuing some serious education in alternative health treatments to get an early start on careers. My eldest has taken on some serious sourdough duties - not one person here complains! John David was able to get his first deer this year, and Elizabeth and I have found some undiscovered common interests that have been delightful! 2020 was not perfect, but it was in many ways such a great respite and vacation from the "businesses" that we often think are so important. In fact - it was a "great reset" for us!!!
This coming 2021, whatever it may bring, I believe can be used to continue to strengthen the most important things. I love my family. We are thoroughly enjoying our new Orthodox traditions and the deep meaning and love and renewal that we find in them. Honestly, 2020 was perfect timing for endless seas of growth and learning more about love and what is important. You know, in the presence of these feelings, I am reassured that there are many reasons to be looking forward to the great 2021!
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.