Monday, December 1, 2008

Boys Will Be Boys (Even If They're Lambs)

While I was feeding the sheep this morning, I noticed that two of the ram lambs were "practicing" head butting.

Such activities are not unusual, but this pair were definitely mismatched. One of the lambs was Clare's Little One. (We've never got around to naming him; we just call him that in reference to his mother, Clare). He's a big, strapping youth, outgoing and with a friendly personality. The other "combatant" was Ficus. He's a bit of a runt, sweet but small.

So, there was Clare's Little One and Ficus going through the pre-contact motions: backing up, lowering their heads, and then rushing towards each other. The only problem was that Clare's Little One is about 6" taller than Ficus. Not surprisingly, they sort of missed each other and came to a rather confused stop.

At that point, I distracted them with the feed, so I don't know, if they were planning on trying again. However, I think Clare's Little One needs to move to a higher (and taller) class, while Ficus stays in the Junior League.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I love cats. We always had cats while I was growing up, but my boyfriend is allergic to them, so we haven't had any in the 17 years we've been together.

However, last winter the neighbors (who had about two dozen cats) moved but didn't take all their felines with them. I occasionally saw a big gray one and frequently noticed a smaller black one prowling around the barn. We started feeding them, since someone had to care for them. Well, guess what, last spring I went into the barn one day and found kittens. Big surprise, huh? The black cat turned out to be female and was now a mother. She hid when I entered the barn and carried off and hid her kittens as soon as I left. We've continued feeding the cats, but I've never been able to get close to any of them.

We knew we had to get everyone spayed or neutered (we didn't even know what gender the kittens were) before more kittens were born, especially since these kittens were now almost old enough to have babies themselves. The surgery can be kind of pricey, though, especially since we had three cats (mother and kittens) to be fixed; I don't think we'll ever be able to catch the big gray cat, Ghost, but at least he's male. We contacted various people and groups involved with animal rescue and found someone who connected us with United Animal Friends and a vet willing to work with feral cats and to spay/neuter them at a discount.

Now came the really difficult part: catching one semi-feral and two feral cats! I still can't believe how it all worked out.

I didn't give the cats much food that morning, so they would be hungry and waiting to be fed in the late afternoon. My cat-catching tools included a small dog carrier I borrowed from a neighbor, a can of tuna fish, some dry cat food, and a push broom. I poured some cat food in a dish and then drained the water off the tuna fish onto it. I placed the dish in the back of the dog carrier. Next, I positioned the front of the carrier about 6" from a wall, leaving the gate wide open. Then I hid around the side of the barn, holding the push broom.

One by one, the cats approached the carrier, sniffing it out of curiousity and scenting the tuna fish. The mother went in first, while one of the kittens made a large, cautious circuit of the area. Then the other kitten slowly investigated the carrier and went in. Finally, the first kitten returned, circled the carrier, and entered. As quietly as possible, I crept forward and, when near enough, used the push broom to shove the carrier against the wall, thus covering the door. All three cats were inside -- amazing!

Now came the more dangerous part (to me). I slid a board between the wall and the door of the carrier. I turned the carrier on end and carefully moved the board to one side while simultaneously closing the gate. At this point a paw (or maybe two) flashed out through the gate and got my hand. By the time I finished removing the board and closing and latching the gate, there was blood flowing pretty freely. Those claws had pierced my hand in four places and made two scratches. All in all, though, I got off pretty easy. Three cats mean 12 paws and many, many claws (and teeth, of course), so I actually managed the whole event with a fairly minimal injury.

Can you believe it, though? I caught all three cats at the same time and on the first try!

The story has a happy ending. The mother cat was spayed and the two kittens (who turned out to be male) were neutered, and they all received rabies vaccinations. I picked them up from the vet this morning. They were very happy to be released from that pet carrier, and now they're romping around, checking out their territory, and making sure everything is in order.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cleaning Cotswold Fleece

I clean my Cotswold fleece by first shaking the fleece nice and hard for several minutes to remove as much vegetable matter (VM) as possible. It's amazing how much VM comes out just from shaking. Those beautiful curls unfortunately can hold (and hide) all sorts of bits of hay and stuff.

I wash it pretty much as wool from any other breed of sheep -- using hot water and mild soap. I start by soaking the fleece in plain cold water two or three times. A lot of excess dirt and sweat come out that way. Then I put the wool in the soap and hot water, letting it soak for about 10 minutes. (Don't let the wash water get cold; the dirt and grease will reattach to the wool.) Next, I remove the fleece from the wash water and put it in clean water to rinse it. I usually perform the rinse process at least twice, sometimes three times, until the rinse water is clear.

In general, I think you have to worry less about felting with Cotswold wool than with some finer wools. It can felt but not nearly as easily as Merino, for example.

Lay the wool in a sunny, clean place to dry. Placing it on a screen or a chain-link gate on the ground allows air to circulate and dries the fleece faster.

After it dries, you may have to remove more VM (those curls, again). Opening up the locks a bit and shaking again can help with that.

Remember: when washing any wool, do not agitate or wring the fiber. Don't temperature-shock it (i.e., don't put it in hot water and then immediately in cold water or vice versa). Don't let water run directly on the wool; fill the wash basin with water (and soap) before you put the fiber in.

Good luck!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Glimpse into the Life of a Shepherd

Just before midnight on Saturday, I woke up hearing a sheep baa outside the bedroom window. The barn and sheep pasture are NOT near the bedroom. I got up and dressed and went out to find about half the sheep roaming around the property. (The property is fenced, but there are lots of things, including plants, that I don't want the sheep to get in to.) I also discovered the reason the rest of the sheep weren't out was because a rather large ewe was stuck in the hole in the fence they had made, baa-ing her head off in annoyance.

I tried to get her out, but she was really stuck. I finally managed to get all the other sheep corralled (involving much bribery with hay) and then returned to my stuck-sheep problem. Apparently she had gone through the larger hole made by her predecessors but then got her head and the front of her body in a smaller hole. It was dark, and the sheep and I were wedged between the fence and a scrub oak. With a lot of pulling (of wire) and pushing (of sheep) I finally got her out.

After I returned her to the pasture, I had to figure out how to cover the hole in the fence, so the whole "great escape" didn't happen again a half hour later. I took a chain-link gate that I use for drying wool and lugged it back to the sheep pasture. I then barricaded the hole with the gate and bungy-corded it in place.

By now it was almost 1:00 am, and I had to take a shower after my close encounter with the stuck sheep. I stayed up another hour or so, letting my hair dry and reading a mystery novel, and then finally went to bed. Needless to say, I got a late start on Sunday, but at least all of the sheep were still in the pasture!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Book Review - "Knitting Under the Influence" by Claire LaZebnik

Knitting Under the Influence by Claire LaZebnik
5 Spot, 2006, 416 pages.

Kathleen, Sari, and Lucy meet every Sunday morning to knit, eat, and talk. They’re in their mid-20’s; they live in L.A., and they’ve got problems.

Kathleen, used to living off her wealthy TV-star sisters, has moved out on her own in a fit of anger -- with no apartment, no job, and no money. Sari, a clinician who works with autistic children, has unexpectedly found herself helping the son of a former high school heartthrob for whom she harbors a deep-seated animosity because of the way he and his friends used to treat her autistic brother. Lucy, once chubby, now svelte, but with a poor self image, works in a lab that conducts animal research and dates her attractive, callous, and arrogant boss.

The book focuses on the women’s relationships with the men in their lives. Kathleen tries out the “marry for money” angle. Sari struggles with preconceptions and assumptions, old and new. Lucy is forced to see what has been in front of her all along.

The book was an odd read. The bond among the three women was ambiguous. They seemed to have nothing in common other than their interest in knitting and, occasionally, drinking, yet they appeared to be close and to rely upon one another for emotional support. The reader is allowed only a narrow view of their lives, seeing little more than their love lives (with the exception of Sari, who we get to know a bit better). It was obvious where the story was going, and the predictability was disappointing. However, the book draws the reader in, and by the second half, I was enjoying the ride and committed to finishing it.

The title reference to knitting led to disappointment, though. Although knitting was mentioned on a regular basis, it played a minor role in the story. The author used it merely as a foil; the women could have met weekly for ceramics or stamp collecting without changing the story much.

All in all, the writing was solid, the story flowed (even if only shallowly), and the plot moved at a good speed; too bad the knitting theme only floated instead of being knitted in.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Lambs! and more lambs!

Aurora, the first sheep born on our ranch four years ago, had twins on Jan. 13: a girl and a boy, both black. We've named them Cyprus and Cedar.

Each year we choose a theme for naming the lambs; this year it is trees. The first lamb born this year (on Jan. 3) was a black ewe lamb who we named Juniper. She is pictured at right.

On Sat., Jan. 19, Minerva had a black ewe lamb. She is bigger than the twins who are six days older than she is. (That's an advantage of being a single (rather than a twin or triplet) -- the lamb gets all the nutrition for itself, no sharing.) We haven't decided on a name for her yet.

Yikes, more lambs! Frejya had twins today, a boy and a girl, both black. I'm going to be wading through lambs soon. It can be challenging to negotiate among short, fast-moving lambs when your arms are full of hay.