Sunday Homestead Update – Spring Feel Despite “Stay-at-Home” Order

Our state has issued a stay-at-home order (shelter-in-place) for 3 weeks.  Mtn Man is almost out of work, as no new fiber has been coming into the mill in the last few weeks, likely due to the cancellation of many fiber festivals etc.  Plus the fact that many of our customers’ farms are their secondary job, and if they lost their primary job they can’t afford to have fiber processed, so we are not sure when to expect it to pick back up again.  Mtn Man has been able to find a second job to do while he finishes up what fiber is in the mill and he can keep it into the fall if needed depending on what happens with the fiber industry over the summer.  It does not pay enough, but it is something, and for that we are grateful.  Thankfully, we are doing OK on supplies and food, with more on the way as we get into gardening season and lambing/kidding season.  The cushion that homesteading provides is going to become essential to our family this year I think.

The steadiness and routine of the farm also brings comfort to us in the chaos.  Even though up here in the high Rockies we are still at least a month from what most people would consider spring to feel like, it is indeed spring here.  Spring here still means cold and snow, but it also means certain things start happening on the farm.

Garden

We planted our first seeds indoors under the grow lights this week.  Let gardening season begin!

Sheep

We are less than a week from Autumn’s due date.  So…we will potentially have our first baby lamb(s) of the season by our next Sunday Homestead Update!  And not long after we will begin milking our first dairy sheep.

Her udder is building up nicely, though her belly seems not-too-big, so we are guessing a single lamb, or very small twins.  She had twins last year, which was her first lambing season.

Heritage Arts

I finally finished the front half of my Match Play poncho.  Knitting has taken such a back seat the last few months that I feel like my progress on any knitting projects is crawling, especially because all the projects I have on the needles are large ones.  So it was really nice to finish something, even if it is not finished, just half-finished.  And I really love it and will enjoy wearing it whenever I finally get it finished.

What is a “Break in the Fleece”? — Willow Creek Fiber Mill

This shearing season we found that one of our new sheep, Maggie, had a significant break in her fleece.  It offered a good opportunity to do a post about what a break in a fleece is, how it is caused, and how to manage it and prevent it.

What is a break in a fleece?

A break in a fleece is a section of the fibers that, due to any number of different causes, is much thinner and weaker than the rest of the fiber.  You can usually see the break with the naked eye if you hold a section of the fibers up towards a light source.  It will look like a line running perpendicular to the fibers.

Upon closer inspection, you can see that the line you are seeing is actually a section of each fiber that is much thinner than the rest of it.  It is all along all the fibers in the same location because it happened to the entire fleece at the same time while it was growing.

A break in the fleece will literally break right at that spot along every fiber if there is any tension put on it.  This will potentially mess up the ability for the fleece to be processed.  As you can see in this picture, we pulled slightly on the top section of fibers and it broke right at the line.

What causes a break in a fleece?

Ultimately what causes the break is a lack of enough nutrition and energy for the sheep’s body to be able to put energy into growing a good fleece.  Any number of stressors can cause that lack: moving to a new location or changing flocks and “pecking” order, poor diet or change in diet, stressful breeding situations, pregnancy and lambing, lactation, or predator attacks.

For our sheep, Maggie, the move to our farm from her previous home, and the stresses involved, are what caused the break.  She is the bottom of the pecking order, she was really afraid of the LGD when she arrived, and she overall struggled for the first month or so after arrival to fit in and settle.  Because of the bullying and her fear of everything, she didn’t eat enough, and thus the break in the fleece.

We once had a set of fleece come in where many sheep in the flock had a break half-way through the fiber length.  When we contacted the owner of the flock we found a clear answer as to the issue.  A bear had broken into the barn and tried to attack the flock one night.  They didn’t settle for a couple of weeks after that.  It stressed the flock enough to effect their eating for long enough to cause the break on many members of the flock.  Others handled it better and didn’t have any break.

What can you do with a fleece that has a break in it already?

If you put a fleece with a break in it through the carder, all the fibers will break at that weak spot.  If it is far to one end or the other, it could leave fibers that vary a lot in their lengths.  The shorter fibers will act like second cuts and will likely pill as they move through the carder with the longer fibers.  This will give roving that has pills all through it, and if spun will be yarn with pills all through it.

If the break is near the center, thus leaving similar length fibers, it will come out as good roving.  But if the staple length of the broken parts is not long enough for the spinner, then it will not be able to spin and will have to be roving.

If the break is far enough to one end or the other, thus leaving enough length for spinning, the fleece can potentially still be made to yarn without pilling.  But it takes some extra work.  You will have to hand-break the fleece, putting the longer fibers into one batch to go to spinning (assuming the length is long enough), and the shorter ends can potentially be made into roving, or can just be skirted out.

How can you prevent a break in your fleece?

Obviously you can’t always completely prevent a break.  Situations with predators, or moving to new locations or changing flocks are often unavoidable.

The best way to prevent breaks is to be sure that you are always feeding high-quality feed in good quantities.  Also, be sure the feeding area is spread out enough to accommodate the amount of sheep you are feeding with plenty of room.  If they are crowding around feeders or piles of hay the lower sheep in the pecking order are going to get pushed out and will not get adequate nutrition.  And if possible, find ways to give the lowest sheep in the flock extra nutrition when needed.

Lambing often causes a break in the fleece, no matter how good the nutrition situation is.  That is why it is recommended that all pregnant ewes are shorn about 6 weeks before lambing.  That way, the break will be very close to the tip of the fiber, and wont effect its ability to be processed.

via What is a “Break in the Fleece”? — Willow Creek Fiber Mill

Shearing Time 2020 – Remi and Maggie

Shearing season is officially over here at Willow Creek Farm as we sheared our last 2 sheep this week.  Remi and Maggie are new to our farm and thus this is their first shearing with us.  They did not have a full year of growth – more like 10-11 months – so we expect next year’s fleeces to be a bit longer.

Sunshine did part of Maggie’s shearing, which made the 3rd sheep she has partially shorn this year.  Fun!

Since Maggie is Blue’s twin, and Remi is Daisy’s half-sib, we expected these two fleece to be very similar to those two – boy were we wrong!  These two fleece were the heaviest from all the dairy sheep.  Not so surprising for Remi, who is the largest dairy sheep, but very surprising for Maggie, who is the smallest dairy sheep.

Remi

Remi is a white, East Friesan/Lacaune mix with a tiny bit of Polypay and North County Cheviot mixed in too.  He is a yearling, so this is his “baby” fleece.

Remi had the heaviest dairy fleece this year, weighing in at 2.4 lbs raw skirted.

We found his fleece to be pretty mediocre as far as fleece go – which is not unexpected since he is a dairy sheep and thus the focus for his breeding has been dairy traits, not necessarily wool.  It had very little crimp, was not very soft, but had a good staple length at 4.25 inches.  It was nicely dense, which is a good quality.  Hopefully, as we carefully choose who to breed him to, we can improve the fleece somewhat in his offspring.

 

Because of the quality of the fleece, we wont be even trying to process it to yarn as we are with the other dairy fleece this year.  It will become roving to be used to braid rugs.

Marigold

Maggie is a dark brown, East Friesan/Cotswold mix, with a tad bit of Lacaune and North County Cheviot mixed in.  She is a yearling, so this is her baby fleece.

 

Maggie is currently the smallest sheep in the flock, and yet her fleece was the second heaviest of the dairy sheep, weighing in at 2.2 lbs raw skirted.  She is one of the new dairy sheep – but she is one of the two that already has some wool breed mixed in (as does her twin, Blue).

 

Her fleece was slightly sun-bleached, though not as badly as Autumn’s.  It had a lot of vegetable matter in it, despite our best efforts to skirt well and the fact that she was jacketed half the year.  It will be interesting to see if it lets go of it well or not.

The fleece was surprisingly heavy in the grease, and was dense, with a very organized, wavy crimp.

 

She had the longest staple length of all the dairy sheep, at 5.25 inches.

 

Overall, we are very excited about her fleece and are excited to see how it turns out and whether it makes a nice yarn or not.

However….

there is a problem with the fleece.  It has a break in it.  Which gives me a great chance to share with all of you about what a break in a fleece is, what causes it, how to avoid it, and how to manage it.  It is enough information that I would like to do a separate post on it.

Maggie was the most stressed out by the move to our farm.  She is bottom of the pecking order, the smallest sheep, and really disliked the LGD at first.  So the move was very stressful on her.  That is what caused this break.  The good news is that it is pretty far to one end, so Mtn Man has decided to try to hand-break the fleece before processing, then process the shorter ends to roving, and the longer ends to yarn.  Had it been right down the middle, we would only have been able to process to roving.  We will let you know how it goes.

Sunday Homestead Update

We have continued to have (mostly) warm weather in the 40sF with sun, and have worked outdoors on the homestead as much as we can, but have also been busy off the homestead this week and thus could not get done as much as we hoped.

Sheep

Autumn’s stanchion training has gone great and she is ready to be milked once she lambs.

Her udder is beginning to build now.

We are about 3 weeks from her due date and the start of lambing season.  Very exciting!

Chickens

A year or two ago we decided that the lower coop would permanently be the bantam coop.  Our roosters are generally very large, and we were worried about them in their interactions with the bantam hens.  We are not keeping the bantams for breeding, they are actually for setting, they are our broody girls.  So we don’t need them to be in with the roosters.  Making the small lower coop their home worked out well.

But there was a benefit that we would get from that decision that we didn’t see until more recently.  The bantam hens are very kind and gentle with new arrivals to their coop.  We have been able to put several hens in there over the last year or so that were injured by aerial predators, or were outcasts in the upper coop being bullied and picked on and the bantam hens accepted them with open arms (…er, uh, wings?).  Additionally, we can put the young pullets in with them to grow until they are big enough to join the regular flock and they are all very nice to them.

So this week we moved over our latest bunch of young pullets.  They are about 8 weeks old now, and wont be able to join the big flock until they are at least 14 weeks of age.  The bantam hens were fine with their new roommates and accepted them without incident.  Of the 10 chicks we hatched in January, we are guessing at this point that 5 are pullets and 5 are cockerels based on feather coloring, size, and comb color.  Right around 9 weeks the males combs are much pinker than the females.  So we left the (suspected) cockerels in the grow pen in the barn, and brought the (suspected) pullets down into the bantam hen coop.

Five, 8-week-old pullets with our Bantam Cochin hen, Willow, in the front.

Garden

We got the entire compost pile moved over to the new garden last weekend.  Then we were able to purchase soil to finish filling the boxes for this year.  There will be a lot of settling and we will need to add more next year, but this is what we will work with for now.

We also got the posts up for the new garden fence, and took some branches off the tree that is hanging over the garden.  We went back and forth about whether to just remove the whole tree, or whether we should just branch it.  We decided to branch it and see if that is enough.  Hoping to get the rest of the fence up this week before the snow flies again.

Cheesemaking

It has been 3 months since our stirred-curd cheddar went into the cheese cave!  We brought it out and tried it.  It was VERY good!

How exciting to get to try our first-ever cheddar after waiting 3-months and find it to have been a success.  We put two quarters of it back into the cave (after waxing over the cut sections) to try the flavor at 5 mos, and then 7 mos.  The flavor was definitely a mild cheddar, and we are interested to see how it tastes after some more aging.

LGD

Anya has found that the new compost heap we made by cleaning out the stalls and scraping the barnyard with the tractor is a nice warm place to lay in the sun.

While I was taking the photo, one of the barn mouser cats, Midnight, was doing everything he could to get my attention.  He also got Anya’s attention, though he didn’t want it.

 

Shearing Time 2020 – Daisy and Blue

Two more sheep have been shorn for the year.  Daisy and Blue are both new to our farm and thus this is their first shearing with us.  They did not have a full year of growth – more like 10-11 months – so we expect next year’s fleeces to be longer.

These shearings were exciting because Sunshine has decided she wanted to learn to shear the sheep.  So Mtn Man and her did these two together, with Sunshine learning.  She enjoyed it and did an awfully good job for her first ever time.  Not to mention, Sunshine is petite – small but mighty – but I am sure her size effected her ability to wrestle the sheep into position and hold them there.  Thankfully, these are two of our smallest sheep, which is why we used them for her training.

Daisy

Daisy is a white, East Friesan/Lacaune mix with a tiny bit of Polypay and North County Cheviot mixed in too.  She is a yearling, so this is her baby fleece.

Since she is one of the new dairy sheep, we were not sure what to expect of her fleece.  It was heavier than the other dairy sheep fleece, weighing in at 2.1 lbs raw skirted.  But still a lot smaller than our wool sheep fleece.

It is very lofty and has a very squishy feel.  It was VERY dense, it might be even denser than Fiona’s fleece, which is the most dense in our flock.  It has a pretty organized crimp and is surprisingly soft.

The staple length was 3.5 inches.  We expect a little more length off her next year.

I am interested to see what this fleece is like once it is processed.  Sometimes they surprise us and something that seemed soft is actually quite scratchy yarn, and vice versa.  It is in the mill being washed now – can’t wait to see!

Bluebell

Blue is a white, East Friesan/Cotswold mix, with a tad bit of Lacaune and North County Cheviot mixed in.  She is a yearling, so this is her baby fleece.

She is one of the new dairy sheep – but she is one of the two that already has some wool breed mixed in (as does her twin, Maggie).  Her fleece is quite a bit different than Daisy’s.  It weighed in at 1.9 lbs raw skirted.

It has more curl than crimp, and is soft with a mild sheen, reminiscent of BFL wool.

The staple length was longer than the other dairy ewes we have sheared thus far, at 4.25 inches.

As with all the dairy sheep this year, we are interested to see which, if any, can be made into a nice yarn that is not too scratchy or too short of a staple length.  Whatever doesn’t make yarn that we like will be made into roving for braiding rugs.

I am really looking forward to sharing the finished products with you on all the shearings this year once they get processed.  Hurry up, Mtn Man!  Oh, wait, you have to process stuff for our customers too?…OK, fine, I will be patient.  🙂

We still have 2 sheep left to shear, the ram, Remi, who is half-sib to Daisy.  And then Maggie, who is Blue’s twin.  So we expect their two fleece to be similar to these last two.