Sunday Homestead Update – Sheep Breeding Season

The update around here this week revolves around the start of sheep breeding season.  Breeding season is a fun time full of hope.  It feels kind of like planting season to me, we get the seeds in the ground and then dream and hope about what will come in the fall.  In this case we put the sheep together and dream and hope about the lambs in the spring.  This is our first ever season with more than one breeding ram, so we were able to discuss and plan which ewes would go with which ram.

Fergus

Our proven breeding ram is Fergus.  He is a BFL/Merino/CVM cross that has an amazing fleece.  His is by far our favorite fleece of all the wool sheep we have ever owned.  It is both long and soft.

Ewes to breed with Fergus this year:

Fiona

Fiona is our matriarch and also a wool ewe.  She is a CVM/Merino and has a soft fleece with tons of crimp.  The one downfall of her fleece is that it tends to be a little bit shorter than we would like.  She is also Fergus’ mother.  We have bred them to each other twice now and they make AMAZING offspring with excellent conformation and beautiful fleece.  You have to be careful with line breeding/inbreeding like this (mother/son, father/daughter, or half siblings) and you should never go closer than this genetically.  The first year we tried it we were a bit anxious and figured if it didn’t go well we would just not do it again.  But both times have produced great offspring.  So we are going again for a third time.

Daisy

Daisy is one of our young dairy ewes.  She comes from lines with excellent dairy qualities and production.  This will be her first breeding year, so she may or may not take.  She is half-siblings with our dairy ram Remi, and since we are not very well educated on their lines we decided not to breed them because of the potential for problems from close line breeding/inbreeding like that.  (I know, I know, the opposite of what I just said about Fiona above…but we know Fiona and Fergus’ lines and knew it had a high likelihood of going well).  Also, she has the shortest fleece of all the dairy ewes and we think Fergus’ length of fleece could mix nicely with hers.  We want to see if we can add in some good wool qualities without messing up the dairy qualities.  Might work.  Might not.  Worth a try.

Maggie:

Maggie is another of the young dairy ewes.  This will be her first breeding.  She is twins with Blue (see below) so we thought it would be fun to try one of them with each ram to see what they produce.  So Maggie will be going to Fergus.  We also wanted Fergus to have more ewes than Remi since he is proven and thus a better bet for a successful breeding.  She has one of the longest, softest fleece of the dairy flock, so we are interested to see how Fergus’ fleece goes with that, and whether we lose dairy qualities by crossing them.  She comes from lines with excellent dairy qualities.

 

 

Remi

Remi is our young, unproven breeding ram.  He is a dairy ram with a short, somewhat soft fleece.  He comes from lines with good dairy qualities.

Ewes to breed with Remi this year:

Blue

As I said above, Blue is Maggie’s twin (although they don’t match in color).  They have very similar longer fleece and amazing dairy qualities run in their lines.  She is a young ewe, so she may or may not take this year.  We wanted to have at least a couple full-bred dairy lambs born this year, so this will be one of those breedings.

Autumn

Autumn is our adult dairy ewe.  She has lambed once before and has good dairy qualities.  Since we aren’t sure whether the young ewes will take or not, we wanted at least one full dairy breeding that we could count on.  Since she is already proven she should take this year and that would also get Remi proven.  If she doesn’t, that could show a problem with Remi, which would be good to know too.  Also, she is the same color as Maggie, so we thought it would be nice to have one of those two go to each ram to mix it up.

 

So this week we separated out the breeding groups.  Fergus and his gals are in the front pen, Remi and his are in the back pen.  There has been a lot of chasing and fighting as they settle in with their new flocks.  We are excited to see how this year goes and what quality of lambs each of these breedings produce.

Sunday Homestead Update – November?

Wow, it’s November.  That one really snuck up on me.

The winter storm hit us hard last week, bringing our temps down to -3F at night and single digits during the day.  The animals did great and everything went fine.  It was fun to be snuggled up indoors for a few days.

Goat

Pansy has gone to the breeder to spend time with a buck.  Little Miss is definitely missing her, as am I, surprisingly.  I didn’t realize how attached I was to that goat.  Once the breeder sees her get bred we will wait at least 21 days to be sure she doesn’t come back into heat, and then we will go get her and bring her home.  Here she is with the buck:

Sheep

Our sheep breeding season will start later this week as well.  We have decided which ram will go with which ewes and will split them up on Saturday.

Firewood

The firewood chopping and stacking continues as we prepare for keeping the house warm this winter.

Heritage Arts

I am continuing to work on my second weaving project – a set of 5 dish towels.  I am getting close to done and am excited to see them off the loom!

Sunday Homestead Update -Preparing for the Storm

We have what is predicted to be a big storm arriving today and lasting through Wednesday.  There is expected to be quite a bit of snow, and more importantly to the homestead – temperatures down to 0 (F)!  Brrrr!  This is very early in the season for us to get that cold, so we were caught of guard and have been scrambling to prepare the farm for it.

Water:

We had already put out some heated waterers and put the heater into the water trough.  But we finished up removing the un-heated waterers and getting them stored for winter, and added the last few heated waterers.  We filled all the waterers and blew out the hose.

Housing:

We cleaned out all the wet areas in the stalls and coops and added a lot of fresh bedding to give all the animals good, dry places out of the wind to bed down.

Garden:

We finished removing and storing all the trellises and cages.  As well as the last of the tents and frost fabric.

We harvested the last of the beets, radishes and celery that were still growing.  And removed the last of the dead plants that hadn’t been taken out and cleaned up.

Then we turned the top 2 inches of soil in the whole garden with a rake for pest control.  This good hard cold will help freeze and kill some of the eggs and larvae that pest bugs have left in the garden to torment us next season.  As we were raking we saw a lot of larvae and eggs.

House:

We put up some rubber door sealants around some of the doors where time and use had broken down the old stuff.  This ought to decrease the drafts around the doors.

We continued to work at chopping firewood.  We rented a splitter and worked on the piles of rounds we have.  Getting close to what we need to last all winter.

Heritage Arts:

So now that all our work is done and the snow is flying we can all have a nice relaxed Sunday by the fire.

Little Miss and Sunshine have been hired to knit some hats and a baby blanket, so they are happily working their way through those projects.

I am now weaving my second ever weaving project.  It is a set of 5 dishtowels.  I chose autumn colors – though the weather is making me feel more winter-y right now.

I started a knit-along with some friends this week too.  We are knitting the Match Play Poncho.  I am really looking forward to this.  I also cast-on some socks for Braveheart for Christmas, and a dress for Little Miss’s birthday.

Flushing Sheep

I know that “flushing sheep” probably sounds strange and confusing, but it is actually a term for something quite normal and not involving a toilet.

Flushing, in this case, is a term for feeding ewes grain in order to “flush” out more eggs during breeding season.

Feeding sheep grain for 17 days prior to beginning the breeding season, and then slowly tapering down during the entire breeding season, has been shown to increase the rate of twinning.  We have seen the results in our own small flock over the years, but have also read about it and talked to seasoned sheep breeders with large flocks who agree it definitely makes a difference.

It is important to increase their grain carefully so as not to make them sick.  17 days out from breeding we start giving them each a handful the first day, two the second day, etc working up to about 1/2 lb of grain per ewe per day within the first week.  We keep them at that rate through the first couple weeks of breeding season, and then slowly taper them off the grain.

We are currently 17 days out from breeding, so we have started flushing the flock today and will continue through the breeding season.

My First Real Weaving Project

We have had a loom in the family for a few years now.  Little Miss and Young Man have been the resident weavers.  I wanted to learn, but have been too busy.  We recently sold the old, large floor loom and bought a smaller floor room that easily fits in the corner of the living room.  In plain sight, all day every day, the loom started calling to me.  So Young Man and Little Miss agreed to finish their projects by October 1st, at which point it was my turn with the loom.  It was finally time for me to learn!!!

I started by just practicing on some extra warp that Little Miss had left on the loom.  I got the hang of tension and such with that practice piece.  Then I was ready to jump in and do my first project.  I have a hand-woven kitchen dishtowel/handtowel that I really love and decided to copy that design and idea with my first project.  Mtn Man helped me with warping – and I am SO glad he did.  It was tricky to learn it for the first time and feel confidant as we went.  There were definitely some stressful moments, and I felt like it took FOREVER.  I am hopeful that we find the next warping to be less stressful and a little quicker now that we understand it better.  But I enjoyed watching the yarn pattern build up on the warping board.

Once we got it warped, I used some thicker waste yarn to make a header to finish tensioning the loom and give me a straight starting point, and then I took off with the weaving.  I am amazed at how fast weaving goes.  As a knitter, I am used to much slower progress.  Maybe I am a slow knitter but fast weaver…I don’t know.  But I felt like the project was flying along.

I was worried though, the fabric seemed quite open…more open than I had hoped.  But I knew that it would do some shrinking and tightening when it came off the loom and then was washed.  In what felt like no time at all, my towel was finished.  It definitely felt like weaving took about 1/3 the time warping did…but that is probably because since it was my first project I only warped for one towel, not multiples.

I hemstitched the ends (I did the first end after I had woven the first 3 inches or so, and the second end was done once the project was finished but still on the loom).

And I cut it off the loom!

Then I trimmed the tassels.  Maybe I should have waited until after washing to trim the tassels – I don’t know, but I was worried they would become a huge knotted mess in the wash if I didn’t.

It looked great, and I was so happy with it.  But now for the terrifying part…washing.  Images flashed through my mind as I set it into the washer – images of it unraveling and me pulling out a tangled knot of yarn mess…images of it being a messed up balance and coming out all waving and oochy and messed up.  I said a little prayer and pressed the start button…then anxiously waited the 50 minutes that my washer took to wash it.  I was so excited when I pulled it out and it looked great!

It had tightened and shrunk quite a bit, though I still found the weave to be looser than I had hoped.  But I love it!!!  Here it is next to the original that I had designed it after.

I like the size and colors better than the original, but I like the thickness of the original towel better than the new one.

First weaving project was a success!  Now time to warp again…this time it will be for several towels on one warping, not just one….that ought to make the warping time more efficient.