Wednesday, June 25, 2014

If you're not part of the solution...

When I first saw the pods last fall behind the new house, I was pleased. After all, I love monarchs as much as the next person and I'd never seen milkweed growing on any property I'd ever owned before.

Milkweed beetle?
 I'm all for helping out, so I let the pods be. I guess I assumed that since milkweed is vanishing, it must be relatively delicate from the survival standpoint. Nothing to worry about. 

Um, wrong. 

It grew back this spring with a vengeance. There's now a huge GROVE of milkweed swallowing the septic system, and colonists have staked claims all over the yard. 

The rain needs to stop ASAP, so that I can mow the pastures and get rid of any milkweed within reach of the sheeps and goats. Actually, it all has to go, in or out of the pastures.

It makes me sad to be part of the problem, but in the end it's not a hard decision. This patch of ground just can't sustain both livestock and monarchs.

Monday, June 23, 2014

New boys

There's a lot going on at Tyche's Run this summer. We've only just finished digging out from winter, but we're moving ahead anyway. This is Owl, Moose, and Turtle, so named by the thirteen-year-old. (Shrug. They also have to-be-registered Pygora names from their breeder, but what can you do?) Anyway, they're our new Pygora boys. And you can guess what that means. They are absolutely gorgeous and maybe I'll get some pictures that do them justice before too long. They are also amazingly mellow...and quiet. Huh? Quiet goats? It seems so. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

I'm not much of a gardener...

...but I thought it would be fun to give these a try. Naturally colored cotton! I think this seedling is probably from a green cotton seed. 

There are so many ways they can fail. We'll be pushing the limits of their required growing season. They need something like 170 days and I didn't get the seeds into the ground until nearly June. I think the first frost around here is about mid-October. It'll be a race. 

I planted 24 seeds from two different varieties. One is green; the other color escapes me. Brown maybe? Only 15 seeds germinated, but that's a much better rate than the sunflowers I tried last year. (Exactly zero of those germinated.) 

We're at about four weeks now I think. The seedlings are bigger than shown in the pic, but they've already got some bug-eaten holes in them. They're also planted in a weed-infested garden plot by the new house that I just didn't have the time or tools to completely reclaim this year. So they will have to survive the weeds. And it's been pretty wet. Warm, but wet. I don't think they like wet. :( 

Still, nothing ventured nothing gained, right? 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Nevermind Mother's day

When I went to pick up the kid (the human one) from summer camp the other day, I was greeted with a gift. Not your typical camp crafts, this gift. No paperweight for this mom. No, no, wait for it. Camel fiber! They'd gone to a local petting zoo and the child thought to grab a handful of camel lint for mom. How sweet is that? After cleaning it up there wasn't much left to spin, but I did get a couple of yards out of it. It was every bit as soft as alpaca.  Cool.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Craigslist, sheep, and kindred spirits

I may have mentioned, I love fiber. 

It was a good thirty years between my first experience with knitting and my falling headlong into the world of fiber. In those thirty years, I spent a lot of effort on my education, my career, and more recently my family, but very little on fiber. Virtually no one in my circle of friends and acquaintances did fiber. On the off occasion that I knit a sweater, I was an oddity. My friends would squint and oooooo briefly, but in truth I rarely shared the information. I worked in a profession where time spent on hobbies really meant only one thing - time spent not working. Ugh.

When I finally threw in that particular professional towel, it was not entirely an accident that I came to the Midwest. I left Silicon Valley, where orchards and farms and backyard chickens were fading memories, and selected a job in a community where agriculture was still part of the culture. I wasn't thinking specifically fiber! or sheep! or even weaving!, but I was thinking cheap land! farms! animals! 

The vast majority of my California colleagues were aghast when I announced that I was leaving -- and for the Midwest no less. Most of us had spent our entire professional lives trying to get to California, not away from it. I only told one close friend that agriculture had any role at all in my decision. I didn't even tell my family. Instead I just reminded people how much a house in Silicon Valley cost and left it at that. 

Shortly after I resigned my job I got a call from a colleague on the East Coast offering me a position there. She'd apparently heard the news. 

No, I said. 

She couldn't quite believe me. 

I'm already committed, I said. 

Well, in a year or two, when you wake up in the Midwest one morning and wonder how you got there, call me, she said.


What does this have to do with craigslist you wonder? 

Well, it's now five years later and one morning this week I woke up -- still in the Midwest -- and I did not wonder how I came to be there. No, instead I did what I always do these days. I skimmed the farm ads on craigslist while I drank my coffee. And on this particular morning I spotted an ad for a flock of eighteen Black Welsh Mountain sheep. 

Black Welsh Mountain sheep! I said to myself, I gotta see those.  

So I contacted the guy. (Over the internet of course.)

He emailed me back. He was at work, but his wife was at home and could show me the sheep if I wanted. 

Absolutely, I said. 

I called the wife and arranged to visit that afternoon. They were an hour away on the other side of the city, but no matter, I was just thinking rare sheep for sale!

The farm was not what I expected. I've talked to a lot of sheep farmers around here lately and most of them are old-timers. This though was a gentleman's farm. The house was a restored pre-civil war mansion with some old barns and just a few acres parceled off from the surrounding area. It was lovely, lovely, lovely, but it hadn't been a working farm in a while. In fact, the husband worked at Chase. A finance guy. 

The wife was a little befuddled that her husband had volunteered her to show me the sheep. 

They're my husband's, I really don't do much with them.

I asked her if she and her husband came from farming families. 

Well, I did, but we only had a few cows. And maybe ducks. No sheep. 

As she walked me over to the field where she thought the sheep might be I asked her why they were selling the flock. She made some vague reply that ended with something that sounded like, We thought we'd try cows. 

The sheep were not in the field. She thought maybe the shed. As we approached the shed we found a tiny, inky black ewe lamb, maybe all of 4 lbs, stuck in the fence alongside the gate. It was bleating for its mother, who was nowhere to be seen. The wife picked it up. This one was a surprise. She's only a couple of days old. We lost another one just like this earlier this year. It got stuck in the fence too. I wondered how long this lamb would have been stuck if I hadn't arrived. 

We found the lamb's mother in the shed with the other sheep and reunited them. The lamb panted and its mother circled around it. The rest of the flock headed back to the field. 

Too late, I asked if any were friendly enough to catch. 

She didn't think so. 

I explained that I was really interested in the fiber and I needed to be able to touch them. 

I looked around and saw nothing but wide open space for the sheep to run. 

Do you have some grain? I asked.

No, I think we're out. 

How about a chute? I tried.

No, but she thought maybe she could close the gates and trap them in the field. In fact it turned out the field had openings that were not even gated. I wondered if this was the first time she'd noticed.

We followed the sheep out into the high grass. 

We traipsed around in circles for a while before I thought to ask about the fleeces. 

Have they been sheared this year? I tried.

Oh, sure.

And do you have any of the fleeces around? I pushed.

Oh, no. 

No? I repeated.

No, we threw them all away. 

I think I may have gasped.

Nobody was interested in them, so we had to throw them away. Nobody really wants the meat either. Everybody wants those big, white lambs. Though, we've eaten these and they're alright.

As I circled fruitlessly around, I noticed her texting on her phone. I assumed she was asking her husband for help. 

I changed tacks and asked about shots and general health issues.

I don't really know. You should talk to my husband. 

Well, what about registrations? Do you know who's related to whom? 

No, you really should talk to my husband.

This went on for a while longer. I asked questions. She denied any knowledge. Eventually, she turned to look at the house. 

Here come my daughters. My youngest loves the wool and I thought maybe she'd kept some. I texted her to bring it out. 

I saw a young girl, no more than 7 or 8, climbing over the fence with a dark wad in her hand. It was wool. She brought it to her mother.

She wants to see the fleece. Give it to her, her mother said. 

I told her to throw it away, but she ignored me. The wife said this to me in that conspiratorial way that mothers use to talk to each other. The one that really means, You know how it is. Kids don't listen to sense. 

She continued. Every year she hoards some. She just loves wool.

The little girl stretched out her hand and gave me the small, fuzzy mass. 

Thank you, I said. 

Finally, some sense, I thought. 

I spent several minutes talking to the little girl about the wool. She knew the sheep were special because of their color. She also knew that people made yarn from their wool, but she wasn't sure how. I pulled a lock out of the wad and drew the fibers long. I twisted them around with my fingers and doubled them over on themselves. I held out the loosely plied string in my palm and showed it to her. 

There. Yarn, I said. That's how it's done. 

She never took her eyes off of me. 

In the end, her mother made her give me her whole stash to help me decide whether I needed a Black Welsh Mountain sheep (or two or eighteen). The girl winced, but did not object too strongly to having her wool taken away. I am sure she has been roundly informed that her fascination with the wool is silly. Maybe she'll grow up to be a financier like her father. Maybe she'll end up in Silicon Valley in a high stress job, without a sheep in sight. Maybe she'll love that life. But right now, as a child, she's a kindred spirit. A lover of fiber. 

As for this flock of rare, somewhat endangered, sheep? They were healthy, I'm pretty confident, though I never actually caught one to inspect up close. I don't think people are lining up to buy them. I do fear they will end up butchered for meat. I've spoken to the husband who is willing to negotiate a very low price for the flock, but we all know even a free animal is not really free and eighteen sheep, even little ones, is a lot of sheep.  I did bring the wool home and spun it. It was neither fine nor super coarse, though who knows which part of the fleece I got. It was also a little crispy which makes me wonder how much nicer it might be with fleece-specific management. 

I'm still thinking about whether I need a couple (or all) of them. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014


I've been spending time on Facebook.

See, I discovered Facebook groups. Specifically fiber groups. And sheep groups. And goat groups. And especially the groups for buying and selling raw fleeces. Like drugs to an addict.

I am an addict.

I'm like one of those people who stay up late at night watching the homeshopping channel for jewelry and kitchen gadgets. Except I'm trolling for animal byproducts. It's weird. Truly. Even I recognize that. Nonetheless, the more I see, the more I want.

Somedays I've even forgotten to check my bloglist. I feel guilty and a little bit embarrassed.

I will try to do better.

I will resist the urge to check that latest fleece listing. I will squash that urge to search for 'Wensleydale' or 'Teeswater' or 'Gotland'. Oh, and I'll try to stay away from Craigslist too. Cause on Craigslist, they sell not only the sheep fleeces, but the sheep as well.

Speaking of which, I have a story to tell. About Craigslist and sheep and kindred spirits.

Tomorrow. I'll tell the story tomorrow. Right now, I have to turn. off. the. computer and go feed the actual sheep and goats and ponies and chickens.

In the meantime, meet Sunshine, the sweetest barn cat EVER, watching chickens. Or maybe swallows. It's like homeshopping for cats. :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014