Willow Creek Farm Shearing – 2021

We finished shearing all the sheep that are shorn annually (Freya, the Wensleydale is shorn twice a year). We are happy with the variety and quality we got this year, and looking forward to all the yarn and roving we will get from them.

Our flock is changing and improving and has taken some interesting turns in the last couple of years. We now have a dairy flock, which we are breeding for milk qualities, but also crossing to try to improve the wool. And we still have our wool flock. Our wool flock has become better and better through the years as we have been able, through the fiber mill we own, to really find the best of the best when it comes to fleece quality. A lot of different fleece come through the mill and when we find a breeder that has consistently good fiber that really shows the best of the breed, we have bought sheep from them to add to our flock. So we are getting more and more excited about the fleece we are producing.

Daisy

Daisy is a 2-year-old dairy sheep – an East Friesian/Lacaune. Her fleece tends to be too rough and scratchy for yarn, but we like to make it into roving to use in our braided rugs. Daisy’s fleece this year weighed in at 4.4 lbs raw skirted. It had a 3.5 inch staple length and was heavy in grease. It is lofty with a squishy handle and crimp. Just like last year, it is very dense.

Blue

Blue is also a 2-year-old dairy sheep – East Friesian/Cotswold. Her fleece this year weighed 5.3 lbs raw skirted. Her fleece is drape-y and somewhat soft, reminiscent of a fine Romney wool sheep. It has moderate crimp. It has some sheen and the staple length this year was a nice, long 5.5 inches. We like to make Blue’s fleece into yarn and this year we plan to dye it.

Nora

Nora is a wool/dairy mix sheep. Her mother is Daisy (above) and her father was a BFL/CVM wool ram. She is a 1-year-old East Friesian/BFL/CVM ewe. We crossed her mother to our wool ram to see if we could improve the softness on her mother’s fleece, while still keeping dairy qualities. She has yet to lamb, so we don’t know about the dairy qualities yet, but the fleece seems to fall exactly in between her mother’s and father’s fleece for qualities. It is definitely softer and finer than Daisy’s, but just as dense. It has an organized crimp and no sheen, but and is just slightly longer than her mother’s at 4.25-inch staple. Her fleece this year weighed in at 4.1 lbs raw skirted. We plan to try it as yarn and see how much itch-factor it has.

Matilda

Matilda is new to our flock and we are very excited about her fleece. She is a Bond ewe (wool breed) and is 5 years old. Her fleece is a beautiful example of a Bond with very organized crimp and nice luster. It is very soft and fine. Her staple length this year was about 4.25 inches and her fleece weighed 6.3 lbs raw skirted. We will definitely be making this to yarn.

MacDougal

MacDougal is a yearling Blue-Faced Leicester (BFL) wether. He was purchased to be our breeding ram last year, but turned out to be sterile. But his fleece is so great (and he is so friendly) that we decided to wether him and keep him for his fleece. This is our first fleece from him. His fleece this year weighed in at 3.8 lbs raw skirted with a 6.5 inch staple length. It is a beautiful example of BFL, with a very interesting crimp/curl. His locks (which aren’t quite locks, but also not quite NOT locks) are lustrous and soft. We are looking forward to the yarn that this fleece will make.

Nilsson

I forgot to take a photo of Nilsson before shearing this year without his jacket on! Sigh. Next year I will get one.

Nilsson is a 6-year-old Bond ram. He is our new breeding ram and we are very excited about the quality of his fleece. It has won Champion ribbons in fleece shows over the years and his genetics will add a lot to our flock. His fleece weighed in at 8 lbs raw skirted this year and had a 4.5 inch staple length. It has a very organized crimp with great, squishy handle. It is very soft and has nice mild luster. It is a beautiful example of a Bond fleece and we are so excited to make yarn with it.

Sunday Homestead Update – Snowy Spring

It has been awhile since I took a break from blogging…so what have we been up to?

Our 5-year-old son had another ER visit, hospitalization, and surgery (his 24th). It continues to be a hard road with his medical issues. This round came on fast and strong and was pretty scary. But he is doing better now and we are thankful for that and hopeful to have a nice long break from the pediatric hospital.

We have had a wet, snowy spring. We had one big spring snow that buried us for a few days.  We played board games and stayed in our pjs, as well as bundling up to play outside and dig paths for the livestock to make it to the water trough.  And then we have had several weeks where we had snow off and on for days. The moisture is good, especially after last year’s bad fire season.

The big snow we had was deep and didn’t even begin to melt for over a week. During that time the predators started getting desperate and we had a mountain lion and a bobcat both looking to eat our livestock in broad daylight on two different days. Between our Livestock Guardian Dog and us humans we were able to keep them away and nothing bad happened.

Sheep

We got all the sheep sheared and are starting to process all the wool into roving and yarn in the mill.

Daisy’s twin lambs have thrived and grown so much! They are doing very well.

We have not been milking Daisy due to things going on in our life that are keeping us too busy right now. We might start milking her after the goat has her kids in the next few weeks since we will be milking the goat anyway. The rest of the ewes are due to lamb at the end of May and into June.

Goat

Belle is due to kid this week. She is looking very wide and we are expecting twins. It will be nice to have fresh goat’s milk again, not to mention the adorable kids bouncing around!

Chickens

We had a very cool visitor to the chicken pen the other night. It was a windy night and we didn’t latch the exterior pen (the chickens were all closed into the coop). The door must have blown open, allowing the visitor entrance, and then blown closed, trapping the visitor inside. When we came out in the morning we were pretty excited to get a close-up view of this beautiful Northern Saw-Whet owl. It was so tiny and seeing it from a few feet away was amazing! We looked at him/her and took photos for a couple of minutes and then opened the door. He/she flew off with no issues, glad to be free again.

Garden

In between snow storms we have prepared the garden soil and laid out drip lines for this year. We have also started seeds indoors and they are all sprouting like crazy. Hard to believe another garden season is starting soon – especially with all this snow.

Heritage Arts

I finished the sweater I was making for Mtn Man. We both love how it turned out and he has been enjoying wearing it through this snowy spring! I used yarn he made from a fleece from our ram, Fergus. It was a 4-ply worsted weight from his 2018 fleece.

This was my first time using my newly purchased book “The Knitter’s Handy Guide to Top-Down Sweaters” by Ann Budd. I have many of her books and love them all and this one did not disappoint. It is already one of my favorites and I know I will use it over and over again for years to come. I love the books she has written that make it so you can use any yarn and make any size because they have charts for all different gauges and sizes. Perfect for a family of 7 that I love to knit items for. And perfect for all the different gauges of yarn we make from our sheep fleece.

Writing

I have done some more writing for Mother Earth News and will share links and info as it becomes available. Watch for my article in the June/July print issue “Ask the Experts” column!

Sunday Homestead Update – Time for a Break

This will be my last post for a while.  We have a lot of things going on in our life right now, and I am finding that I need a break from blogging for a bit.  So I am hitting the pause button.  But don’t worry…I will be back soon, and I will have a lot to share as we enjoy spring on the farm.  Before I go, one final Sunday Homestead Update catching you up on each aspect of the winter homestead…

Sheep

Daisy and her lambs, Dusty and Dixie, are doing well.  She is producing LOADS of milk.  Much more than last year – which was her first freshening.  We have decided to just let her lambs have it all for the first 3 weeks or so before we start milking her.  But I am looking forward to seeing how her production compares to last year.  The lambs are so active that it is difficult to get photos in the little jug.  It has been too cold to let them out yet, but this week is supposed to be beautifully warm, so they are going to see the outside world for the first time tomorrow.

Freya either did not get pregnant, or she miscarried during the wildfire evacuations.  So there will be no lambs from her at this point.  We can hope that maybe she was bred by Nilsson in December or January and is due this summer.  Time will tell.  But for now, there are no more lambs due for our farm until the end of May.

Several sheep are desperately in need of shearing.  We have had some crazy busy-ness going on, not to mention bitter cold temps that make us not want to shear.  We will be shearing several of them within the next few weeks as it warms up.

Goats

Belle is continuing to do very well with the loss of Pansy.  She seems to be fitting in fine with the sheep and is kind of making friends with the wether, MacDougal.  Not to mention the bond she has always had with Anya, the LGD.

We are drying Belle off (gradually ceasing to milk her and stop her milk production) this week in preparation for her kidding coming in April.

Chickens

The chickens have done an excellent job of laying through this cold winter, especially considering the stress the wildfire evacuation put on them back in October/November.  All is well with them and there is not much to report.

Ducks

Our first winter with ducks has gone better than expected.  We had planned to just give them a chicken waterer and no pond throughout the winter.  But we have found that with a trough heater in the bottom of their pool, it stays thawed and they really enjoy swimming in it and they don’t seem negatively effected by the cold.  We do not let them have it when the temperature is below about 15F.

Heritage Arts

I am about halfway down the length of the sweater I am making for Mtn Man.  He tried it on and it looks like it will fit great.  I am very excited and hope to get this done before it is too warm for him to wear it this winter season.

I finished the first side of my summer poncho.  I started the second side, but I am trying to work less on this as it can wait to be worn until summer, and focus more on Mtn Man’s sweater.

Sunshine recently took a colorwork knitting class and learned the basics of colorwork through making this hat.  There were many ups and downs for her, as it is pretty difficult to learn the right tension for colorwork.  But I think the hat looks amazing!

Hazel and Jerry

I can’t leave, even for a short break, without giving you all some pics of Hazel and Jerry.  Every day they are cuddled together in a new, cute position.  Love these two!

Daisy’s Lambing 2021

Daisy has certainly taken us on a long ride this year.  She has had all the “imminent” lambing symptoms for over 2 weeks, and combined with the bitter cold that has meant nightly checks on her every 1-2 hours for over 2 weeks.  We are tired.  But she finally lambed last night!

We checked her at 10pm and she was relaxed and chewing her cud.  Mtn Man was planning to check her again at midnight (2 hours), but felt like he needed to check again at 11 instead (1 hour).  When he got up there, both lambs were born already.  She snuck them out on us in a very short amount of time!  But she successfully birthed them both on her own, which is such a relief after her dramatic birth last year.

It was quickly clear that one lamb was having issues.  It appeared that Daisy had birthed the ram lamb first, and began licking him/drying him/cleaning him.  Then she stopped half-way through drying him off to birth the ewe lamb.  Then she went to work on the ewe lamb, cleaning her off and drying her and didn’t get back to the ram.  It was 19F inside the barn (and much colder and windier outside the barn).  The ram lamb was hypothermic because he hadn’t been dried off fast enough.  The ewe lamb was nursing and doing well, but the little guy was droopy, inside his mouth was cold, and he was gasping for breath.

We brought him down to the house and got the woodstove stoked up nice and hot.  We cuddled him on our laps in front of the fire and used a hair dryer to warm him up (you have to be careful if you do this, don’t heat them too fast, or too hot).  His initial temp was 98, and it took about an hour and half to get him up to the appropriate 102.5.  Once he was up to temp we started syringe feeding him some milk we had milked off Daisy.  It took about 1/2 hour to get 2.5 ounces into him (be careful doing this as well, you don’t want to cause them to aspirate and get pneumonia – especially if they are already having trouble breathing they can have issues swallowing properly), but through that time he definitely started perking up and his breathing returned to normal.  It is amazing what a warm tummy and some good nutrients and sugars can do for a struggling lamb.  His ears perked up (they were drooping down), and he started calling for his mama and trying to stand up and walk (he had been pretty lethargic and limp before).  So we took him to his mom and he nursed and started to really stabilize.

The kids have named them Dusty and Dixie and they are currently doing very well, though Dusty is still a bit behind Dixie.

They are huge babies.  Milk sheep generally have lambs around 7 lbs.  Her single lamb that got stuck last year was 10.5 lbs.  These babies are just plain huge!  The ewe lamb was 11.2 lbs and the ram lamb was 11.8.  We continue to have very large lambs are our farm.  We have discussed it with the vet as well as seasoned shepherds that have more experience than us.  There are two main camps on this, one is that it has to do with the ram, but we have used several different rams of different sizes over the years.  The other camp is that it has to do with overfeeding in the last two weeks of pregnancy, but we are feeding less than the recommended amounts and less or the same as all the other shepherds we talk to.  We don’t want to cut back any more because then we would risk pregnancy toxemia.  So we don’t really know what to make of these large babies.  This particular pair seem like they were overdue, and that could be it.  Mtn Man jokes that it is the fresh mountain air that causes our sheep to have large lambs.  LOL.

This morning we let the flock and the LGD come meet them through the wire.  They were all very curious about the newest members of the flock.

We are still getting very cold temps here, especially at night, so we will be keeping a close eye on these two over the next week or so as they get used to life outside the womb and they wont be joining the flock in the outside world for quite a while.