Friday, July 6, 2012

Rain and Chickens Don't Mix

It rained a lot on the Fourth of July. This was actually a good thing. We hadn't had rain for several weeks and were in sore need of it. The precipitation stopped late afternoon and the clouds began to disappear, so fireworks were still possible.

This was the first time my 3 1/2-month old chicks (chicklets? tween chicks?) had experienced anything but sunny weather. The last time it rained (or snowed) they were still housed inside. I had placed the top of an old dog house in their enclosure awhile back to give them extra shelter. I didn't know if they'd ever used it, but I figured they would definitely get under it when it rained. Sigh. I seriously overestimated young chicken intelligence.

It was raining pretty hard when I looked out the window and saw the six chicks huddled together, getting soaked. So out I went into the now pouring rain and chased chicks around until I caught them, one by one, and put them in the shelter. At least they stayed put once I deposited them there. I was afraid they'd bolt right out again, but apparently they grasped immediately the advantages of the situation. By the time I, with great effort and much running through the rain, caught each chick and placed her under the dog house roof, I was soaked. I really looked as though I had taken a shower fully dressed, but at least the chicks were safely ensconced.

I peeked out occasionally to make sure they were still under cover, and they were. They didn't stick their heads out again until the rain had completely stopped. Now I just wonder if they'll remember to get in out of the rain next time!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Completed Weaving

Here are some pictures of the weaving custom order I finished and mailed last week. They are aprons for elementary school girls based on traditional Croatian folk aprons.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Very Busy

Last week I finally planted some peas. Since they haven't emerged yet, the chicks are still day-tripping to the garden; I take them in each evening. They are thoroughly enjoying being able to run around, chase bugs, and do some experimental flying. They're about seven weeks old now and growing like mad.

They had a scare two days ago. Friends visited with their dog, who is quite a bit smaller than Dierdre. He squeezed between the fence and garden gate and went after the chicks. Luckily the visiting kids were already in the garden and caught him as he grabbed hold of the tail of one of the chicks. Although she lost some feathers, no real harm was done.

I finished a large weaving custom order and shipped it on Monday. Yesterday and today I and other members of my fiber guild are selling our work at a fair in downtown Prescott; I spent yesterday morning there. I also gave a talk yesterday, "From Sheep to Shawl," at the Prescott Highland Games. Afterwards, I went back to the Courthouse Square and spent a couple more hours at the guild's booth.

Dierdre accompanied me all day. I think she was a little overwhelmed by all the people and dogs, but she seemed to have a good time. I have a small skein of yarn I spun from her fur, so I showed it to people as an example of "chiengora." People often jokingly suggest I spin her fur, since she has so much hair, so it was fun to show them I had done so. By about 4:00, she was giving me that "are we going home soon?" look, so we loaded my spinning wheel into the car, went back to Wilhoit, and fed the sheep and chickens.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Lamb Psychology

I know, I know, in my last post, I said it was pointless to try to figure out lamb psychology, but this lamb's actions are just too strange.

She keeps following Dierdre around. Last night, we went to the barn to feed Astra. There's a divider in the barn that used to be part of a stall. While I stood there with a bottle of milk in my hand, Dierdre circled the divider four times with Astra in tow. By the end, I think Dierdre was getting kind of freaked; she couldn't shake the lamb. I finally stepped in and grabbed Astra, who hungrily started eating when I stuck the bottle in front of her face.

Today, Dierdre and I were walking, and Astra ran up to us. I veered left, Dierdre right. Astra followed Dierdre, sticking to her side, slightly behind her shoulder, just as lambs often follow their mothers. The dog swerved and changed pace; the lamb stayed with her.

I feed her. Dierdre pesters her and herds her. Yes, Dierdre is sort of sheep-sized. She has four legs. She's very furry. But I feed her! I just don't get it.

On a cute and less-confused note, two friends helped feed Astra yesterday. All parties were quite happy (once we got Astra away from Dierdre).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Baby Animal Updates

Heloise's lamb is doing well. She's guzzling lamb milk replacer from a bottle four times a day. I'm a bit frustrated, though, that she's not running to me each time I go out. Instead, she heads straight for Dierdre. Considering I feed her, and the dog pushes her around and tries to herd her, I'm not sure why the lamb's made the choice she has. But trying to understand lamb psychology is probably futile.

I moved the chicks to larger accommodations last week. They adjusted quickly to the bigger space, although they protested greatly during the two seconds it took to move each of them from the large box they were in to their new digs. Growing chicks certainly eat a lot!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Very Sad

Heloise, our favorite sheep, died on Sunday. She likely had mastitis. Her lamb was only eight days old.

I didn't notice anything wrong until late Saturday afternoon. She had one injection of penicillin, but it wasn't enough or in time to help her.

I'm bottle feeding her lamb. She's had some trouble adjusting to a bottle, but she is eating some. I've seen her try to nurse from other ewes, but they keep pushing her away. She guzzled the milk from the bottle last night, but she wouldn't take it this morning. I'm hoping that means she was full because she managed to nurse from someone, but I'm not sure. She did drink several ounces from the bottle a little while ago, though.

The other sheep are looking after her, in general. She's sleeping with them and wandering around the property as part of the flock. She keeps crying, though. I know she wants Heloise.

Heloise was one of the first two sheep I bought. She's my "cover sheep" on my home page, and I often tell stories about her. It's hard to pinpoint all the reasons why she was so special. I guess she just had that certain something about her.

We always called her our Zen sheep. She seemed to take everything in stride. Even her arrival here was bumpy. Heloise and Juliana, her travelling companion, had an adventurous trip to our ranch. I arranged to meet their original owner, who was traveling from California to Arkansas, at a sheep ranch about 40 miles north of Wilhoit. However, my truck broke down a few miles short of my destination. It was two days before we could get it running again, so Juliana and Heloise had a short, but unexpected, stay up north. We finally got the truck going late in the afternoon of the second day. We loaded the sheep and set out…and broke down again after driving less than a mile. As the sun was setting, and then in total darkness, we winched our pick-up (with Heloise and Juliana still in the back) on to a trailer, and the truck and sheep got towed all the way back to Wilhoit.

When she had her first lamb, Minerva, she was a caring but not overly-anxious mother. She let Minerva explore and only called her back it she wandered too far. Some mothers, especially first-time ones, will hardly let their lambs out of their sight. Heloise took a more relaxed, and perhaps progressive, view of motherhood.

When Minerva was a couple months old, a strange dog got into the property and started harrassing the sheep. By the time I got to the barn, all the sheep were huddled together except for three. Francesco, the alpha ram, Heloise, and Minerva stood out in front of the others, between them and the dog. Luckily, I got there before the stand-off was broken and chased the dog away, but it was fascinating who protected the rest.

Heloise was always interested in what was going on around her. She made friends with the horses and dogs next door, putting her nose through the fence to touch theirs. She liked to have her chin rubbed, and she loved molasses.

I put molasses in a honey-bear squeeze bottle and give it to nursing mothers. All the sheep like the taste of it, but I have to force it into the mouths of most of them. Heloise, though, figured out very quickly the advantages of opening her mouth of her own accord and drinking from the bottle. She would come running when she saw me carrying that honey-bear bottle. A neighbor once asked if I had brandy in there, considering the enthusiasm with which Heloise was drinking.

Poor Heloise, as one of the first sheep here, she was also one of the first to be sheared by us, inexperienced as we were. I won't pretend she didn't make a fuss, but we all survived, and the shearing experience has improved over the years. When I sheared her last summer, she fought a little about getting on the shearing stand, but once she was there, she seemed resigned to the experience. She knew she would be more comfortable once that heavy fleece was gone.

She was also very practical. I usually take two or three trips to give the sheep hay. Every time I give them more, the sheep run over to the new batch, sure it's going to be better than what they've got in front of them. The grass is always greener, right? Heloise, though, often stayed where she was, apparently realizing it was all the same, and once the others had scrambled to the other hay, she had the first batch all to herself.

Although I've read that some other breeds of sheep will let any lamb nurse, I've only seen my ewes allow their own babies to eat. Heloise, however, was flexible on that issue. A few years ago, one of Minerva's lambs indiscriminately nursed from both Minerva and Heloise. Not surprisingly she was big! But Heloise had no problem with it and nursed that lamb as willingly as her own.

Heloise had beautiful wool -- long, shiny, ringlets, and her dreadlocks were classic Cotswold. I always loved shearing her and seeing the cascades of wool come off.

We'll miss her.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

It's Kind of Weird, but....

I may have gone off the deep end, but even the sheep droppings from the lambs are kind of cute. They're so small. I'll spare you a picture; I don't think it would translate well online.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chicks, a Lamb, and Facebook

It's been a busy week. I bought six Ameraucana baby chicks on Wednesday. They're about 10 days old now.

This morning Heloise gave birth to this little lamb.

And I created a Facebook page for High Castle Traditional Crafts -

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Snow, Mud, Sheep, and a Hen

From Saturday night to Monday morning we received about 10" of snow. It was beautiful but quite the storm. Saturday night the wind and rain were extreme, and we lost electricity for awhile.

By Tuesday, the snow started melting fast, with temperatures in the 50s. Now we have snow and much mud. Dierdre's legs are covered with it, and she kicks it up onto her belly every time she runs. She could definitely rival Harry the Dirty Dog. It's just so lovely that she wants to sleep right next to me, considering she smells like a muddy barn.

As usual, the sheep appeared affronted by the snow. They spent a day and a half in the barn while the snow was falling. That always makes feeding them a challenge, since they have a tendency to stomp the hay into the mud that they've tracked in. Dierdre was determined to herd them even there, although they were already where they should be. Therefore, she kept circling close to the inner walls to keep them in as tight a group as possible. The sheep didn't appreciate it much.

My hen seems to be trying to set a record. She's laid 8 eggs in the last 13 days, even with a snow storm. A few weeks ago I told her I was going to buy some baby chicks. I thought it was simply polite to let her know she'd have company when they were old enough to roam. I certainly didn't mean to imply I was going to boot her out or something, but she does seem to be showing me that she's up to the task of supplying us with eggs!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

An Egg!

Our 8 1/2- year-old hen laid an egg today. I'm so proud of her! She's pretty old to still be laying, even occasionally.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Few More Lamb and Sheep Pictures

A couple pictures of Boudica's lamb.

One of Sierra's twins slowly eating a single piece of hay.

Hildegard's little ewe lamb.

Hmm, Sierra walking in front of the camera again.

Some woolly rumps.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Good and the Bad of Raising Sheep

Hildegard, my oldest ewe, lambed on Wednesday. She had twins. One was stillborn, and the other is a little black ewe lamb. It's always sad when a lamb is born dead, but it does happen sometimes.

The little one is still really small but seems to be doing alright. She took longer than average to figure out which end of her mother to go to for milk. She also, at two days old, is till checking out any nearby sheep for food, including the rams. Luckily her mother keeps close by and makes sure she nurses.

Her coat is pretty dirty. Some of the birth sac dried on it, and, of course, being smaller than everyone else, little bits of hay keep falling on her while the other sheep are eating.

In the next two pictures, you can see how tiny she is compared to the one-month-old lambs.

Here she is looking for her mother.

And, no, this is definitely not her mother.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Wind and Chickens

It is very windy today. Taking the mail out to the mailbox at the road was quite the adventure. Dierdre and I walked back to the house with our heads down, leaning into the wind. It's one of those days I consider putting weights on the chickens to make sure they don't blow away!

Actually, we're down to just one hen. She's eight-and-a-half years old now and isn't laying anymore, although she did give a few eggs last year.

I'm planning on buying some baby chicks next month, Americaunas again. I really like their personalities, and, of course, they lay those beautiful eggs with the greenish shells. I have a place to put the baby chicks, but I'll have to build another pen for when they're old enough to be outside but not yet big enough to roam freely. My last coop was smashed in a wind storm; luckily it wasn't in use at the time. As I said at the beginning of my post, it can be very windy here sometimes!

Sunday, February 26, 2012


I made Missouri Cookies this morning, also known as Chocolate No-Bake Cookies and who knows what else. My mother gave this name to the recipe because she got it from a relative in Missouri -- and, thus, traditions (and cookies) are made! They're one of my favorites.

Missouri Cookies

2      cups sugar
3      Tbl. cocoa
1/2  cup butter
1/2  cup milk
1       tsp. salt
1       tsp. vanilla
1/2  cup crunchy peanut butter
3       cups quick rolled oats

Place a sheet of wax paper, about 24 inches long, on a counter or table.

Mix sugar, cocoa, butter, and milk in a large sauce pan. Bring to a rolling boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add salt and vanilla. Stir. Add peanut butter. Stir. Remove from heat and mix in oats.

Using a tablespoon, drop spoon fulls of cookie mixture onto the wax paper. Work quickly, as it will start to harden fairly soon. Let cookies dry. Makes about 50-60 cookies.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rural Living Books

A few days ago, I finished reading Jenna Woginrich's book Barnheart: The Incurable Longing for a Farm of One 's Own. I quite enjoyed it. It tells of her progress from a beginning homesteader on rented property to her final success of buying her own farm.

I love rural living books, as I call them. Even though I've finally got land and sheep of my own, I still thoroughly enjoy reading about other people's journeys along similar paths and their continuing adventures, large and small, in rural living. I've got a large collection of American and British memoirs, as well as lots of "forgotten crafts" and "country cooking" books. (I love cookbooks, too.)

I'm about to start Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life, Woginrich's first book. Both are put out by Storey Publishing ; I seem to like just about everything they publish.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Trials of Motherhood

I was sitting at my desk working, with Dierdre laying nearby, when she suddenly started barking. At first I thought she was responding to a dog in the distance, but then I heard what she did: a sheep baaing. A single baa doesn't worry me, but the noise continued. As we went outside, thoughts of a dog or coyote on the property entered my mind.

From the deck, we surveyed the scene. Boudica, the newest mother, was standing alone, voicing increasingly desperate-sounding baas. A lamb some distance away responded and started towards her. I watched, assuming a tender reunion was about to take place, but the lamb trotted right past Boudica and on to Minerva and started nursing.

Boudica's baas continued as she joined a group of sheep, searching among them for her baby.

By now I was worried. I could see the older three lambs but not Boudica's. Dierdre and I left the deck and headed towards the sheep. A few yards from the barn, I spotted the errant youngster. He was snoozing in some left over wool in the shearing pen, totally unaware of his mother's growing panic.

Dierdre entered the pen and nosed the lamb. He raised his head, looked at her, and got up and stretched, giving a little baa. Boudica immediately responded. He baaed a couple more times, and she came running.

Dierdre and I moved away a bit to watch. Mother and lamb met, Boudica full of concern and checking him out, the lamb, only interested in milk, trying to nurse while Boudica ensured he was safe and sound.

As we returned to the house, I congratulated Dierdre on her sheep-guarding abilities. She had heard a sheep in distress, let me know, and together we solved the problem. Luckily, it was nothing serious, and now everyone was happy.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Are You My Mother?

While I was feeding the sheep this afternoon, I picked up Boudica's lamb to check on him. As I set him down, Dierdre, my dog, approached. I told her to get away from the lamb, and she did.

The only trouble was the lamb decided to follow her. So Dierdre trotted off, the lamb followed, and Boudica, in a panic, hurried after. Dierdre sped up, so did the lamb, and, definitely, so did Boudica. The scene was hilarious until Dierdre entered the shearing pen, closely followed by the confused baby lamb. As Boudica came in, too, I was really worried about the dog and ewe getting into a fight in the enclosed space.

Luckily, Boudica decided to make sure her baby was alright, and while she was doing that, Dierdre slipped out of the pen behind her.

What do you think -- is it understandable that a two-day-old lamb would confuse Dierdre, a big, gray, furry animal,

with his mother, a big, gray, woolly animal?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Baby Pictures and More

Boudica gave birth to a black ram lamb yesterday. She's a first-time mother and a little uncertain about my motives with the camera, so it was a bit difficult getting good pictures.

Sierra's twins, now 22 days old, and Minerva's lamb, 16 days old, look so big and mature compared to the new little one.

I was trying to take a picture of one of her twins, but Sierra decided to be a camera hog. (Actually, she just wanted to be petted.) That's her nose at the right of the photo.

And a few more pictures because they stood still long enough to take them.

Hildegard, voicing her opinion

Snowden, Hermes, and Scout (in the back)

Heloise, just being Heloise

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Family Picnic

When I went out to feed the sheep this evening, I saw Heloise, Minerva, her lamb, Sierra, and her twins off together nibbling on a scrub oak.

Heloise is the mother of both Minerva and Sierra and, hence, the grandmother of all three lambs. Maybe I'm assigning more importance to this little gathering than I should, but I thought it was kind of neat.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Another Lamb and Shearing a Mother-to-Be

Minerva gave birth to a good-sized black ewe lamb Saturday afternoon.

Below is a picture, taken by my nine-year-old friend Kenneth, of Sierra and her twins (now 1 week old) and Minerva with her little one (1 day old). It's a bit blurry but a great shot.

Kenneth, his six-year-old sister Violet, and their parents helped me shear Freyja yesterday. She is likely pregnant and had too much wool on her to offer easy access to milk for lambs. If a sheep has lots of wool in the udder area, new lambs can end up sucking on wool instead of a teat in their search for milk. It's best to give them a clear path to dinner.

The shearing went very well. Freyja behaved nicely except for shearing her tail and back legs. Every sheep seems to have particularly ticklish spots: the tail, the front legs, the top of the head, somewhere that they get really fidgety, or downright troublesome, when you shear that area. Also, they tend to wag their short tails just when I'm trying to shear that area, which can make safe shearing quite tricky!

At one point, Kenneth climbed through the window into the room where the hay is stored in order to get a couple handfuls of hay to feed to Freyja. Unfortunately, the other sheep saw him enter the Sacred Hay Area and raced to the door, eagerly awaiting hay and leaving no room for him to climb back out again. Violet went to his rescue, explaining to the sheep they needed to move and scolding them when they didn't listen to her. She and her father finally convinced them to shift out of the way enough for Kenneth to escape.

Everyone had a good time.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Baby Lambs

The first lambs of the season were born early Sunday morning. Sierra had twins, a boy and a girl. We haven't named them yet. Any suggestions?

The lambs are about 12 hours old in these photos.