More sheep needed

This has been a challenging year, animal-wise. The weather was cool and wet, then hot and dry, then wet again, which puts stress on the grass and the animals. Unfortunately, we’ve lost several due to that stress, including 2 of the Corriedale sheep (one being the ram). As much as I love the Corries, they just aren’t turning out to be the right breed for our farm, for various reasons. One of the other breeds I had looked at were Shetland sheep, a smaller and hardier breed from the Shetland Islands, Scotland.

Did some searching to find breeders in my area, and was surprised to find at least 4 within a reasonable driving distance. Made an appointment at the closest one, and now have a new fiber friend and 3 Shetland sheep!

One of the reasons I was wanting to have Corriedales is that they come in colors – the most common one around here is the cream, but there are also shades of brown and black. I discovered that the Shetlands come in those colors as well – white, and 10 registered shades of brown and black. Plus the lambs can be any of those colors and not necessarily the colors of the parents. The rams are typically horned, but they are curved horns – the pointy end is not toward the human! The ewes are usually polled (no horns).

I’m keeping the 2 Corriedales (Vicky and Sydney), and have found that Shetland/Corriedale crosses are not a bad thing, wool-wise. Hopefully next spring we will have some examples to show!

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Lily
ruby
Ruby
sven
Sven

 

 

When does it slow down?

I was asked a very interesting question yesterday – which is the slowest season on the farm? It took me a few seconds to think about it, and the answer is, there really isn’t a “slow” season, at least on our farm. Because we raise animals, every season is focused on their care and well-being.

Right now (fall), we are making sure things are ready for winter – hay in the barn, waterers ready to go, moving manure out of buildings, as well as putting up the garden items and machinery. Beef sides will be ready for processing in December, so there is the paperwork side of things to maintain.

Winter – keep the animals fed and watered, watch for new calves, work on outdoor projects as weather allows, mostly focus on indoor projects (indoor veg growing, household maintenance, etc), check the beehives every week or so and add food patties as needed. I’m hoping to experiment with dyeing my hand-spun yarn, and will spend more time in the pottery studio.

Spring – watch the ground to see when the grass starts growing and we can stop feeding hay, plan and plant the garden,  shear the sheep, plant the new hay field, make the list of things that need fixed/maintained this year, order meat chickens.

Summer – watch the weather and watch the grass grow, mow and bale hay, get the hay into the barn for winter, work on all those projects (they never end – finish one, find two more that need done), tend the garden, harvest honey as needed, process the meat chickens, mow  the few areas that need it (mostly clearing paths – the sheep and goats do the majority of the mowing around here!)

This is by no means a complete list – some things happen every season, like moving the sheep and goats around the farm for them to eat the grass and brush, or putting up/repairing fences (now that is a never-ending job…), checking the beehives, tending the animals, etc. Add in the daily household tasks (cooking, dishes, laundry, sweeping, etc.), and the hours fill up quickly.

Is it easy? No. Do we always *want* to go out in the heat/cold/rain/snow and do the job? No. I’m pretty sure just about everything on a farm is heavy or difficult, but it’s always interesting, and it always is engaging (physically, mentally, or both!).

I don’t know who originally said it, but the quote “Build a life you don’t need a vacation from” fits. I don’t think I could enjoy a “vacation” away from the farm – I’d be thinking about how everything is going. Did the old cow die, do the sheep have enough grass, on and on.

There you have it – there is no “slow” season on our farm, and every season focuses around caring for the grass, so we can care for the animals.123

Taming a tangled wilderness

We’re unusually free with sharing our successes and failures here at Innisfree on the Stillwater, a fact that is intentional and purposeful rather than naive and dramatic. You see, our desire, along with giving people access to quality, sustainably grown … Continue reading

We’re unusually free with sharing our successes and failures here at Innisfree on the Stillwater, a fact that is intentional and purposeful rather than naive and dramatic. You see, our desire, along with giving people access to quality, sustainably grown food is also to help educate the vast majority of people who don’t understand what it takes to grow their food exactly what it takes to grow their food.

In addition to some thinking we’re arrogant for having such a goal, one of the classic responses we get, especially to failures, is that we don’t know what we’re doing. The irony, to a point, is that these critics are right, but for entirely the wrong reasons.

As it turns out, we don’t know what we’re doing because the knowledge of what we’re trying to do, in many cases, has been almost entirely lost, sometimes intentionally. Over the past several decades, there has been a radical revolution in agriculture almost unheard of since the invention of agriculture itself, and often not always for the better. This revolution has happened so quickly that the knowledge got lost before it got written down.

The result has been tragic, from loss of crop diversity so severe that entire annual crops are now entirely clones to animals so closely bred for specific genetics that they die from eating food they’re supposed to be able to eat, along with a population now so far removed from the realities of what it actually takes to feed them that this all seems normal to them.

We don’t know what we’re doing because we’re on the frontier trying to create a bulwark against the threats these kinds of changes represent. We understand we’re not going to overturn or replace those realities, but we also know some level of that knowledge must be salvaged or rediscovered or the potential for disaster is real and imminent.

So yes, we admit our ignorance, not as a condemnation of ourselves, but as a bellwether of the risks we all face. We do this because we desperately want to learn before it’s too late and for others to understand the risks we all face.

Perhaps that makes us arrogant, but the fact is that explorers and discoverers have always had to be to succeed at what they’re trying to do. We accept that aspersion and the challenge it represents because the task must be done.

DLH

What we do when it’s 102 (degrees, that is)

Our part of the world has been dealing with some serious heat recently, which, as animal farmers, is worrisome. All of our animals have free access to shade all day, every day. Most of the time, they actually take advantage of that shade – the cows and horses will be in the barn until mid-afternoon, the chickens stay in their coop or hunker down under a piece of equipment, the sheep and goats go in their hoop hut or under a tree.

With the heat index in the 90s or over 100 degrees F (Friday was 110F according to my weather app, and it’s projected to be around 107F today), it’s even more important for us to keep an eye on all of our critters, so I will make the rounds every few hours to make sure no one is in distress and that all the water buckets are filled up.

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The cows and horses are the easiest, since they have access to fresh running water. For everyone else, it’s a matter of moving a hose around to fill up buckets or waterers. We do this in stages – water to the sheep and goats, take a break; water to the egg chickens and pigs, take a break, etc, etc. We can’t take care of them unless we’re also making sure to be hydrated and alert.

As far as farm work goes, it gets done before 9 or 10am, or after 7pm. Being prone to overheat anyway, I’m not interested in being taken to the emergency room due to heat exhaustion. The rest of the time, I do like the animals – stay in a cool place and keep hydrated.

Thankfully, this type of weather doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it takes an extra level of watchfulness of the animals and of us.

Grass farming

So, after a long hiatus, I’ve decided to reboot this blog. When doing so, it’s often hard to know where to start, so I decided to start with the question we get asked most often: Why don’t we mow our grass? … Continue reading

So, after a long hiatus, I’ve decided to reboot this blog. When doing so, it’s often hard to know where to start, so I decided to start with the question we get asked most often: Why don’t we mow our grass?

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The short answer to that question is that our “messy” “ugly” yard that makes our “farm look abandoned” is what real sustainable stewardship looks like. Because we’re not mowing our yard, we’re not spending money on grass mowing, not producing the byproducts of grass mowing, and are providing habitat for all sorts of native species.

But, honestly, the answer is more complicated than that. Yes, we are doing all of those things, but it turns out we’re also grass farmers. Our primary occupation at Innisfree is raising animals for food, and it turns out most of our animals eat grass. When I see a yard, I see a pasture, even if it’s one right up next to my house.

In a manner of speaking, we do mow our grass. We just do it sustainably with animals instead of mowers and gas. For us, the results are worth the “mess”.

DLH

Sheep? Why not!

Way back when I was in 4H, one of the main things I did was show Corriedale sheep at the Miami County fair. After I aged out of 4H, the sheep were sold and that was the end of that.

Fast forward to me learning how to knit. How to knit socks, in particular. That’s really all I wanted to do, is make socks…until that got boring.

Then I went to Wool Gathering with my Mom. Buy a spinning wheel, she said. Mom, I don’t know how to spin. You’ll learn, she said. Happy Birth-Annivers-mas. Um. Now I had a spinning wheel and spinning accessories. I learned how to spin (thank you Fiberworks!).

To spin, you need wool. Lots of it. Good quality prepared wool is expensive to buy, especially those to-die-for hand-painted braids….mmmm…..

I had a though. THE thought, that usually means an outlay of money, effort, and time. I CAN DO THAT.

It started with “I can dye plain wool that I’ve purchased somewhere. There are lots of books and tutorials on natural plant dyes (because we certainly have a lot of plants around here)” and ended with “I can grow my own wool”. Sigh.

Skipping a bit, I talked to a guy at the Darke County fair who ended up being the son of the guy we got the Corriedales from when I was in 4H, and he would love to work with us to get some good fleece lambs whenever we wanted them.

We picked them up yesterday.

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In no particular order – Bruce (the ram), and his 3 ladies Victoria, Sydney, and Matilda. Corriedales are from Australia, so Aussie names just seemed the right thing to do!

(The green line marks them as the ones Scott thought had the best fleece – there were 20+ lambs in that area of the barn, so he did this to be able to pick them out of the crowd! It’s water soluble and will wear off.)

Corriedale’s are a dual-purpose breed – wool and meat. I’ve read that they can be milked as well, so will be trying that next year when the ladies have lambed. Sheep cheese is good stuff!

The gang will be staying in the barn for a while to get acclimated to our farm, then will be introduced to the goats and the Pyrs. As with all things around here, time and patience are the keys.

Pallet fence

I needed to fence off the beehives from the rest of what used to be the chicken yard (soon to be re-fenced as a small pasture for animals), and wanted something that would provide a nice windbreak from the sometimes strong west winds we get. Pallets, t posts, and some sweat equity (always part of the equation around here) got the job done.

I still need to build a gate (where the big hole is!), and will most likely reinforce the fence by screwing the pallets together, but the nice weather over the last few days was just enough to keep the ground soft, making it much easier to drive the posts. I was able to lift most of the pallets over the posts myself (no easy feat when it’s breezy, and I’m shorter than the t posts!), and Denny assisted with the heaver pallets. Some of the t posts aren’t quite as far in as they should be due to roots and rocks, but reinforcing the pallets should help keep everything upright.

It works well as a windbreak, which will keep the bees happy, and any animals we put in that pasture won’t be able to bother the hives.

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On animals and worldviews

I suspect that one of the driving forces of the greatest changes in society over the past 100 years versus the past several millenia has been specific movement of people away from caring for food animals. One cannot help but … Continue reading

I suspect that one of the driving forces of the greatest changes in society over the past 100 years versus the past several millenia has been specific movement of people away from caring for food animals.

One cannot help but learn about the brutal realities of the cycle of life to death to life when one cares for food animals. As a result, one cannot help but see the realities of the same cycle in every other part of life. Such realizations cannot help but make someone more pragmatic at the least, if not even a little fatalistic.

That kind of pragmatism then fueled all sorts of ways of thinking that dominated most of human history. And while, yes, that thinking justified all sorts of things we moderns consider savage and inhuman, it also gave birth to the world we have today and, to a great part, continues to sustain it long after most people have forgotten what it all might mean.

Now, being engaged in that kind of undertaking, I find my own thinking inevitably changed by the reality of what I do. In some ways I am softer. In some ways I am harder than I ever imagined I could ever be. My focus is different–dare I say, more focused–and the change in my view of the realities of life and death could not be more profound.

I understand the impracticality of a general return to agriculture, but I cannot help but wonder if we would not benefit from a return to some parts of the worldview it fostered. We need more pragmatism in a world sometimes blinded by the shining and ofttimes false optimism of modernity.  We could do worse than to revisit history, and I’m certain we can benefit from it.

DLH

Hay season

A couple of times a year, I mow lots of grass. Not in the $40-billion-make-my-lawn-look-like-a-golf-course sort of way, but in the make food for animals sort of way. We mow and bale about 30 acres of grass hay every year … Continue reading

A couple of times a year, I mow lots of grass. Not in the $40-billion-make-my-lawn-look-like-a-golf-course sort of way, but in the make food for animals sort of way.

We mow and bale about 30 acres of grass hay every year to hold our cattle and goats through the winter. There are a lot of things that make hay a chore, like the heat and dodging the weather, but despite my complaints, I actually look forward to it.

While so many people slave away in cubicles or at cash registers, I get to spend days outside in the sun, in near contact with the abundance of nature, using big machines. In the hours I spend mowing, raking, and baling, I find a unique opportunity to contemplate and formulate this path of life I travel.

And sure, things go wrong. Equipment breaks. The weather doesn’t cooperate. I see these things as opportunities to grow stronger. To develop fortitude. To solve problems.

For me, hay season is the peak of my year. That’s not to say that it’s downhill from there, but I look forward to this every year even as I dread it. Hay season encapsulates farming as a whole, and I love it all.

DLH