Tuesday, July 5, 2016

From Disney to the Brothers Grimm

Once again, my timing is off.

All spring I've been taking pictures and videos of the fox kits out by the old barns.

So. Frickin. Cute.

Should have posted some a while ago. The posts would have written themselves, right?

At their peak, I counted 7 kits. Running and pouncing and wrestling with each other. Cue the flutes and whistles.

That was probably around the beginning of May.

As they got older I began to see them all the time. I couldn't walk outside without interrupting at least three or four. They were everywhere.  Feasting on berries under the mulberry trees. Racing around the pasture. Darting in and out of the barns. I loved watching them.

They coexisted peacefully with the sheep. Each ignored the other. I started to believe that all would be fine.

Then life intervened for me and I lost track for a little while. By the time I tuned back in, the mood out by the barns had changed a bit.

I started finding...well, I won't even try to be delicate...I started finding body parts.


At first the back half of a raccoon.

Then most of a second one.

Sometimes they'd be fresh and sometimes not.

A skunk.

A groundhog.

One was the entire wingspan of a chicken. Ugh. I had to run to the coop to count mine, who were thankfully all there.

Usually, the carcasses were just lying out on the ground by the old barns.

Sometimes, I'd see them first from a distance. That sucks, cause what if it's a cat or a lamb? I always have to go check them out to make sure.

Sometimes, I just stumble on them unexpectedly. Now that REALLY sucks, cause, well, lets just say, there are no flutes and whistles in the background when that happens.

The groundhog was left in a stall in the pony barn. Um, thanks?

My apprehension went up a serious notch when I went out to check on the sheep one afternoon and found Devon, one of my Icelandics, sitting in the back pasture with bloody, fly-covered wounds across her rump. Like she'd been pounced on by a fox. The attacker was nowhere to be seen and clearly hadn't followed through with its attack, considering Devon was still sitting there, calmly chewing her cud in a very lifelike manner. I took her back to the barn, cleaned her up, sprayed her for flies, and she was fine in a couple of days, but still. Still. A fox attacked a grown sheep.

I worried about the lambs.

Especially Hamza and Helenka, the two bottle babies. They don't have any adult sheep to look out for them, just each other, and they're not a lot bigger than the foxes.

I started thinking about encouraging the foxes to move on.

I struggled with that idea. From what I gather, baby foxes don't move out of the home den until fall and that's still several months off.

I didn't want to endanger them any more than I wanted to endanger the sheep.

I was still hoping for a Disney ending I guess.

Then I started to notice that the number of kits seemed to have declined. By the end of June I was seeing them much less frequently and I rarely saw more than two at a time. Maybe three.

A couple of days ago, I found, not one, but two different carcasses in the pony pens during morning rounds. They'd both been dead long enough that it was challenging to tell what they were. Raccoon? Groundhog? Fox?

I think they were foxes.

Sunday morning, mama fox (I'm pretty sure it was mama) got hit by a car on the road.

This afternoon I found yet another dead kit in the pasture.

Both yesterday and today, I saw only one fox each day.

Just one.

I wish there was something I could do to save this one, but nature clearly is taking its course.

It looks like I won't need to worry about chasing them away.

But, geez, this is not how I imagined this little adventure playing out.

Monday, July 4, 2016


Someone reminded me that I haven't posted in a while.

I could say I've been swamped. Which is true, of course, but also not true.

The real truth is I've been too sad.

This spring, my family suffered a heartbreaking loss -- one of my brothers died.

He was only a couple of years older than me, but his health wasn't great, because of a vicious strain of arthritis that runs in our family (I don't have it.)  Years of arthritis meds had left his immune system compromised.

In early May he picked up a bug somewhere. Or maybe a mold. Or a fungus. The doctors never figured out what it was in his lungs that wouldn't respond to any of the antibiotics or other drugs they gave him.

He died in a matter of days.

The rest of us - my dad, his wife, my two surviving brothers - reeled. There is no other way to describe it.

This blog has never been about family, so I guess that's all I'm going to say now.

And now I've said it, I think, maybe I can get back to the business of blogging.

Got a lot to catch up on.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Worth the wait

March passed with no further fox sightings.

By April, I thought maybe they had moved on after all.

Recently though, I'd started to catch fleeting glimpses again. Usually just the swoosh of a small figure caught out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes dashing for the fence line at the back of the property. Sometimes dashing for the barn.

I wanted to get a picture, even a crummy one, but invariably my phone was dead, or I'd put it down somewhere, or my hands were full, or wet, or she was long gone by the time I got my phone free.

Last week I heard the screams again.

But wait, I say to myself.

I never saw the first litter. You can't be working on a second litter yet, Ms. Fox. Where is my first litter? Where is the litter playing in the spring sunshine? Where is that first litter I was promised? 

Wikipedia promised me. The internet promised me.

I was a little disappointed.

Until this morning as I passed by the old barns to let the sheep out.

Hands free.

Phone charged.  

And lookie there, it's not even mama fox, it's babies! At least three different kits.

In the spring sunshine.

Sparing you the worst of the phone photos, here are a few of one kit. You gotta look close at the last couple to see the tiny little guy.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

It's a hard life

Yesterday was the flocks' first day out in the big pasture. The lambs went with them. So did the rams.

All that excitement.

By the end of the afternoon they were all tuckered out.

Clementine zzzzzzzzz
baby Harper and Dolly
babies Hamlet and Hal with Emily
baby Hercules and Ladybug

Monday, April 4, 2016

Hamlet and Hal ... or ... maybe Holmes

Emily the Icelandic gave us two more beautiful rams yesterday.

Well, she didn't so much give them, as we (by which I mean the vet) had to go in and take them.

But, whatever.

They're still gorgeous.

Daddy is Johnny Blue Lincoln Longwool. I wasn't sure how this Lincoln-Icelandic cross would turn out. At the time of breeding, I was still thinking Charlotte was the only bred ewe I had and a couple more Lincoln crosses, kind of like Brianna, would be fun. Had I realized I had so many oopsies, I probably would not have encouraged this breeding.

But I'm glad I did.

Just look at them.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

H for Hubble stands for trouble

Can I just say,  H is a challenging letter for baby names.

But we're managing.

The goat kids are every bit as adorable as people said they would be -- big, curious, endearing personalities all the way around.

Marthajones, escape artist extraordinaire, gave birth to Hubble, the buckling on the left here. Hubble shares both his namesake and his inquisitive nature with a big telescope. Hubble is all of four and a half weeks old and maybe 12 inches high, but can already jump over 3 foot walls, which he does on his regular explorations.

Ameliapond gave birth to and then rejected, Hippo and Harlow. Hippo, short for Hippocrates, is the buckling in the back and Harlow, named after the ethologist who studied orphaned monkeys, is the doeling on the right. It doesn't hurt that she's movie star beautiful. Hippo and Harlow have thrived as bottle babies. Surrogate mothers rock. Ameliapond couldn't care less.

Once we got on the H roll, I figured it was as good a way as any to track all of this year's babies, not just the Pygoras.

Next up were Hercules, Hobbes, and Hamish, all three little black rams. Hercules is the big one in the front. He's Ladybug's baby. Ladybug's the white Bluefaced Leicester in the middle, making him a Bluefaced Leicester cross. Can't wait to see how his fleece turns out. Hobbes is the guy sitting just behind Hercules, sort of snuggled up with Ladybug. His mom is Mary, the Black Welsh off to the left. And finally Hamish, is the smallest of the three and the son of Jill, whose chin he is tucked up under. These three were born within a day or so of each other and are all the mystery offspring of a big collective ram break last fall, the first week in October. No telling who the dads are, sadly. All three look like typical Black Welsh, well, except that Hercules is huge and polled, which Black Welsh rams are not.

A few days after the three rams were born, Harper arrived. Oh look, another black lamb. She's the daughter of Dolly. Also of unknown fatherage from the same ram escape.

Next came the two little bottle babies who were living in my bathroom until a week ago. They're the last of the unplanned Black Welsh babies. Unlike the previous four, these two were a complete surprise and I'm still not sure how they came about. They seemed too late to be from the big escape, but who knows. Their mother is Eve. She's the oldest of the original Black Welsh ewes -- 7 maybe? She had twins last year as well and it really knocked her down hard. I spent all summer and fall trying to get her back into condition and swore I'd never breed her again. I was very, very careful to keep her away from the rams. Um, right. 

Helenka is the one in the blue sweater. Hamza is the little boy on the right. Hamza probably would have been ok without the bottle, but Helenka and Eve both needed the babies to come inside. It was touch and go with Helenka for a good couple of weeks, but everybody's doing well now.

And for something different -- the next guy to arrive was Houston. He's a twofer, born a week ago. So called, because when I agreed to rescue his Mom last fall, (she's Dallas, yes, see that fiber) I was unaware that she was pregnant. Ugh.

Sigh. For the moment they're living very comfortably at the stables across the road. Lucky them.

And finally, at least for the moment, we have Hiccup, our very first Lincoln baby. Charlotte, for her own stubborn reasons I guess, decided to have her babies in the old barn Monday -- you know, the barn where the foxes live. We found her Monday night just as the sun was setting. There were two lambs.  One was already gone and I have to say, looked wrong. The surviving ram lamb, Hiccup, couldn't have been more than a few minutes old, with the amniotic sac still around his waist, covered in goop and a thick layer of dust and grit. He's still a bit shell shocked, I assume from the stressful birth, but Charlotte is a devoted mom and has plenty of milk. I saw him bounce around yesterday for the first time, so I'm hopeful. I've been waiting a long time for a Lincoln baby and will be disappointed if we end up losing both of these. 

And that's it for now.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Life lessons or . . . Never wrestle a goat

Goats can be hard to contain.

Recently, as the long indoor barn season started to wind down, Cal and Eamon, our two bucks, decided they'd had enough of their stall and took to going over its walls every day.

For lack of a better solution, I took to stalling them in the pen under the stairs to the loft. They didn't really like that and before too long they'd worked out, like Woody, the pen's previous inhabitant, how to get out of the pen, up the stairs and into the loft itself. When Woody first tried this trick, I worried about leaving him up there, but he seemed pretty content and could go up and down at will, so I left him to it. Same thing with Eamon. The most recent addition to the pen, Cal, also figured out pretty quickly how to go up, but unlike Woody and Eamon, was unclear how to come down. I guess the stairs are steep and a little intimidating. Anyway, I noticed over the weekend that Cal was doing a lot of whining at mealtime (not unusual), from up in the loft (a bit unusual), but not actually coming down to eat (very unusual). The notion of a goat unable to traverse stairs seemed unthinkable, so I didn't think about it too much. Until Sunday night when I went out to do the last feeding and checking and tucking in and Cal was still up in the loft and as far as I could tell had not come down all weekend.


I couldn''t leave him there right?

So I went up to get him.

Lesson number 1:  Never wrestle a goat.

At this point, let me point out that Cal is a big, spectacular Pygora buck who weighs, at minimium, 120 pounds and sports a very impressive set of pointy horns at least 2 feet across tip to tip. They make pretty good handles, as long as you hold on tight. Cal also has the sweetest personality ever bestowed on a goat of either gender, so I thought nothing of going up to lead him down myself if need be. What are those horns for after all?

Lesson number 2: Never wrestle a goat on stairs.

We shouldn't have to learn this lesson, right? It should come for free.

I climbed the stairs that are wedged tightly into the corner of the first stall. Did I mention they're pretty steep? And there's no rail of any sort. It's a barn after all. At the bottom of the stairs is a tight little turn in front of the hard oak kickboards of the barn wall. At the top of the stairs was Cal, watching me with a worried little look on his beautiful goat face. I climbed high enough to talk to him, face to face, eye to eye, but even with my encouragement, he was adament. No stairs. I took a deep breathe to clear my late night sleepy brain and thought, "Ok, horns it is. Let's get this done."

I grabbed hold and gave a gentle pull.

No go.

I pulled again.

He put a tentative hoof down a step and stopped.

I set my feet firmly. Yes, I clearly remember thinking, "Get a good foothold," and pulled harder.

He put a second hoof down on the steps.

I must have encouraged him to continue with another tug. Such good horns.

He started to scrabble on the boards.

I stopped pulling.

He started falling.

I pulled up now, instead of down.

Yeah, that's right, at this point I'm still thinking "I can control this."

Ha, I can no more control the descent of 120 pounds of flailing goat from ten feet in the air, than I can fly.

Though fly we did, in a manner of speaking. Together, in perfect unison, the two of us, tumbling through the air, bouncing off the stairs, scrapping along the wall, and finally, landing together in one big heap, wedged up against the hard oak kickboards at the bottom.

Poor sweet Cal on the bottom, with dumb farmer lady on top (who weighs, by the way, considerably more than 120 pounds.) Cal seemed to have landed fairly normally, with all his body parts in the right configuration and orientation. Dumb farmer lady did not.

Cal seemed more confused about having the dumb farmer lady on top of him then anything else. And he definitely didn't understand the screaming.

Lesson number 3: Never go to the barn without your cell phone. 

Let me digress for a second to say, that in the few years that I have been doing this animal husbandry thing, novice that I am,  I have always been serious about keeping my phone with me. Not because I worry about the 120 pound goats really, but we have ponies as well and, well, with an 800 pound pony, you just never know right? So, I always keep my phone on me when I'm in the barn. Always.

Except Easter Sunday 2016.

As I lay scrunched up, screaming, at the bottom of the stairs, with my upper leg going one way and my lower leg going the other, I realized I did not have my phone.

Perfect. Half past ten at night, in the barn, with a busted knee and a poor silly goat struggling to get out from under me. Little faces peered out in concern all around me, but not a single one belonged to a being with opposable thumbs and a cell phone.

Dang my stupid animal-loving heart.

Lesson number 4: Never wrestle with a goat on stairs during lambing season. 

And I still had two bottle babies out in the back barn to feed.

Again, let me digress just to say, "Yippee, it's lambing season." So far, in addition to the three goat kids, we've had 6 little black lambs and our first ever white lamb (double yay - a purebred Lincoln). Unfortunately, babies 5 and 6 were rejected by their mom, so they've been in my bathroom for the past couple of weeks. I wasn't sure they were going to survive at first, but by the weekend they were doing so well that I had taken them out to the barn to live with the other lambs. Except for the constant trips to feed, it's just easier this way.

Feeding them was the last item on my to do list that night. When Cal and I took our trip down the stairs, the bottle babies were still waiting for their dinner.

Once I got my leg straightened out, it was clear I was going nowhere in a hurry. I couldn't stand on the leg at all, never mind walk. I briefly considered staying in the barn until somebody found me, but, realistically, that could have been all night, and like I said, I had those bottle babies to feed. I didn't think they'd survive the night without food.

It's a bit of a blur, but somehow, using a shovel as a crutch, I managed to get back to the house and wake-up the teenager and then somehow with the teenager's help, managed to get out to the back barn, to feed the babies.

I had thought I'd go to the ER, but by the time we were done, it was after midnight and I could tell by then that painful as the knee was, it wasn't broken and I was too exhausted to go through the ordeal of the ER just to have the doctor tell me I had sprained it, so I wrapped it up in ice and went to bed.

Monday afternoon, I did finally get to the doctor and what did he say?

After he got past all the scrapes and cuts on my face, (It's my knee that's a problem,  Doc.)

after he got past the black eye and need for a tetanus booster, (Truly, Doc, the knee?)

after he got over the sight of a woman with a polo wrap wound around her knee,

Doc, "What is that?"

Me, "It's a polo wrap."

Doc, "Huh?"

Me, "It's a horse thing. You wrap their legs with it. It's all we had."

Doc, "Oh. Well, you sprained it."

And, there it was.

A sprain.

Without an MRI, I'll never know exactly what damage I did. The doctor said only serious athletes really need to know exactly what kind of damage they have, so an MRI was out. I can't say I really disagree, although it did cross my mind that he probably has no idea how much physical labor farmers do and how shit-out-of-luck I will be if it doesn't heal well.

Still, it's been a couple of days now, and it's already somewhat better.

For one thing, I'm not screaming.

And I don't need a shovel to walk, though hobbling is a truly inefficient way to distribute hay.

One flake here...hobble hobble hobble; one flake here...hobble hobble hobble; one flack here...hobble hobble hobble.

Ahhhh, feeding goes on for hours.

And, there's a distinct wobble in the joint that was never there before.

Seems like a big price to pay for a lesson I should have had for free.

I mean, honestly, who wrestles goats on stairs?

Dumb. Really dumb.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Goats in totes

It's official. I have two bottle babies. 
I tried everything I could think of, but in the end, Amelia proved to be more stubborn than I. In the first 48 hrs she went from being uninterested, to mildly interested but unwilling to nurse, to hostile.  At hostile, I gave in and pulled her out of the pen. Interestingly, she has taken to sitting up against the panel between the two pens -- where she can see the babies, but doesn't have to interact with them. Not a great mothering strategy. 

I did try to milk her, both to feed the babies and to get the oxytocin flowing, but that was not very successful either. She hated it. Kicked, squirmed, tensed up, you name it. I never got more than about 1/2 a cup from her at a time, which wasn't enough to feed the babies and didn't seem like enough to justify stressing her out either, so I stopped. 

On the upside, I am totally hooked on the possibility of a dairy goat, not that I need any more chores. 

Um, no. 

Not right now. 

But someday maybe...

Once Amelia was out of the picture, I put the babies in with Riversong, Martha and Martha's little one. I won't bring them inside unless I think they're at risk for some reason . 

So far, so good. 

Martha tolerates them.

Riversong is a nice warm body.

And their big brother is thrilled to have them.

Monday, February 29, 2016

F is for Harry

F names?

What was I thinking?

No, I need H names for Pygora kids this year.

And now we need three -- for two bucklings and a doeling.

Amelia had twins last night. A little white mini-me and a beautiful black and silver buckling. Both are doing well.

Fortunately, Amelia was already in labor when I went out to feed the ponies at 10. Otherwise, I probably would have missed it and they might not have made it.

Amelia -- miserable, unhappy, first time mom -- walked away from both the minute they hit the ground. She wouldn't even sniff them. She seemed as much in shock as anything.

I stuck around for hours, slowing cranking the bottle baby machinery into full gear while keeping an eye on Amelia. This morning she seems to be coming back to herself, eating and moving around, but still not interested in the babies.

She's got a serious bag though, so the current plan is to milk milk milk her and keep trying to get her to take the babies. I won't be giving up easily. We'll see which of us is more stubborn.

And that's it for baby goats.

I think.

Pretty sure anyway.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Hello little man

I interrupted foal watch across the street this afternoon (that's another story) to come home and feed the crew. When I walked into the barn I found this little fellow.  He's loud and forward, just like any kid of Marthajones would naturally be.

Welcome little guy.

I think it's an F year for naming Pygora kids.

Fitzhugh? Frederick? Fulbright? If anybody could think of an F-character from Doctor Who, that would be good.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

What a difference a day (or two) makes

Views from the back porch. 
Thursday's shots are not really in black and white. 
That's just what it usually looks like around here in the winter. 

Tuesday afternoon
Thursday afternoon
Tuesday afternoon

Thursday afternoon

Monday, February 22, 2016

Careful what you wish for

Yesterday was a beautiful day. Sunny, warm, light breeze, blue sky. Perfect late winter day. Perfect spring teaser. 

In fact, we've recently had several lovely days of just this sort. Perfect days for working outside in the paddocks, in the barns, with the animals. 

Have I done that? Have I worked outside? Caught up with the barn work? Enjoyed the lovely respite from the brutal storms of January and early February? 

Um, no. 

A big fat shaking my head and stamping my feet no.

No, I was inside, reaping the rewards of my wishing. 

Let me say, before I go any further with this rant, that the tone I'm going for here is one of wonder and excitement, wrapped up in a hefty dose of frustration, even if it comes out sounding like a plain old whine. My writing skills only take me so far.

Why was I inside on such a gorgeous day? 

Because I was packing orders for my new farm shop on Etsy. 

Yay and ugh. 

It's a darn good thing I actually like the fiber I'm selling, 'cause I find myself elbow deep in fiber and locks pretty much every spare moment I have. If I thought I was busy before, oh how wrong I was. 

On the one hand, I am thrilled that an Etsy shop can actually make money. Even a little bit. I have to admit I was skeptical. We are almost, not quite, but almost, to a point where the sheep can pay for themselves. But I am horrified at how much work it takes, above and beyond actually raising and caring for the animals. (Cue the shaking heads and knowing chuckles of everyone who has slogged up this track before me...)

I did some rough counting the other day and realized I'm spending a minimum of 50 hrs a week on the livestock -- caretaking the animals and selling their fiber. That's on top of my regular job, which thankfully is extremely flexible. And this doesn't even come close to accomplishing everything that needs doing, never mind anything else in life. Everything else has had to take a back seat. It would be an understatement to say I'm a little tired. 

This explains why the house hasn't been cleaned in months, why the teenager is eating take out food, and why I wear the same two outfits to work, week after week after week. At least I'm not wearing my barn clothes, right?

But the most ironic unintended consequence of this fledgling success? 

It has sucked up ever spare minute I had for my own fiber work. No weaving, no dying, no felting, not even any spinning to speak of since the shop took off. For the first time in several years, I've had to give up my weekly trip to the arts center downtown to weave and hang out with other fiber folk. 


Clearly, this is not ok. I will be working on how to speed up the washing, packaging and shipping process (um, sheep coats come immediately to mind), how to optimize the return on the investment of my time and effort, and how to get back to my own fiber work. 

It will require some big changes. Eventually, the teenager will finish school and I will no longer be tied to either my day job or my ridiculously expensive property taxes. Then the world is my oyster, or something like that. 

That gives me about three years to figure it out. 

Better get cracking. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Snow foxes

I only wish I had a picture.

There are only two things I like about snow.

1) A snow covered ground makes it easy to see where I'm walking at night and 2) a snow covered ground makes it easy to see where others have been walking as well.

We've had very few days or nights of true snow cover this year. In general I'm happy about that, since with the snow usually comes bitter cold and lots of other unpleasantness.

But I have missed the snowlit nights.

That's why I was pleased when, on my way back to the house from feeding the ponies tonight, I realized I could see all the way back to the sheep barn behind the house. Behind the pony barn I could see all three of the old farmstead barns and all the yards around them. The dark shapes of the barns loomed out against the white snow. The distances were all foreshortened and a low ceiling of clouds made everything glow. It felt like being inside a lightbox.

And that's why I couldn't resist sneaking back to the sheep barn just to peek in the barnyard and see if anybody was still up and about. I could see one dark lump standing in the feeder. It turned out to be Brianna, bless her hungry little half-Lincoln heart. She was out in the yard all by herself cleaning up scraps from dinner. I hovered around for a while trying to get a picture of her in the dark with my phone, but she didn't much appreciate my intrusion and after a few minutes declared she didn't really want an audience and hopped down and away.

I turned to go, not quickly mind you, but fast compared to hovering I guess. My movement startled something out by the old barns. Something that started to run. I caught the movement in the corner of my eye, just in time to look up and catch the sight of not one, but two foxes racing back to the big barn.

Not one, but two foxes.

I'd suspected the fox I'd been hearing had moved into the old barn. I've seen tracks. Lots of tracks. Even tracks into and out of the sheep yard. The other morning, I saw the actual fox, not just her tracks, dart around the corner of the old barn and disappear inside it while I was feeding. And I've seen her trotting across the back field at dusk and dawn. Coming and going from hunts I assume. But, I hadn't realized there were two of them. I suppose there will be even more in a few weeks.

If we are lucky, and very careful and watchful, maybe we will see the kits.

And if we are very lucky, and very careful, and very watchful, maybe they will leave the sheep and the lambs that are coming, very much alone. I pray so.

And I need to get a picture.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A cold day in January

Solar power, such as it is

Barn wall as solar collector - thawing pony buckets frozen solid overnight
Licorice coveting goats' second cutting hay.
Amelia: I know you're there pony. Go away. Can't you see I'm eating for three here. 

Noona: Is that food?  
Food groups

Brianna and Bumblebee tucked in among the big guys

Bookends Clementine and Wembley

My Clementine

Too busy to chat

Tiny Tim with the big girls, Caterpillar and Bo Sheep

Loretta. A meal of her own

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Fox Scream

So, about that coyote footprint.

The dogs were acting weird this morning during their pre-dawn backyard break. Weird enough that I went outside to see what the deal was. They were lined up at the fence facing the paddocks behind the pony barn, staring into the dark. And from the dark came the creepiest sound I've ever heard. Silence, punctuated by a scream, every 10 or 15 seconds.

Made my heart stop.

There were no other sounds, which just contributed to the freakishness. No skirmishing, no tramping through the leaves or branches, no sheep baaing, or ponies stomping. Just this bizarre scream.

Pictures of coyotes marauding through the alpaca pen came unbidden to mind. Alpacas can make some pretty odd sounds, so I had to cram on my boots and run out to check on the poor guys.

Of course, the pacas were fine, if a little spooked to see me in the predawn dark, so I went back to the house and forgot about it.

Later I happened to mention it to my friend across the street.

She immediately asked, "Did it sound like a girl screaming?"

"Why yes. Yes it did. It sounded JUST like a girl screaming. Did you hear it?"

Turns out she heard it coming from behind her barn a couple of days ago.

It wasn't a coyote.

It was a red fox!

I feel so much better. Of course the tracks up the drive and by the house MUST have been a fox. Not a coyote.

I'm pretty sure a fox is not going to kill my sheep or alpacas.

But now I really want a night cam.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

To shear or not to shear

Last year, I noticed that my Black Welsh sheep began to lose their fleeces around Christmas time. Since it was my first year with them and most of the ewes were pregnant, I wasn't sure if it was the norm for them or just a pregnancy thing. Most of my other sheep -- the longwools in particular - don't ever show a rise. On the other hand, the Icelandics certainly do. 

in any case, Christmas seemed early. 

The light colored horizontal line is the point where the new
fiber (above the line) started growing through the old fiber
 (below the line). For good measure, the point where they
crossed felted solid. Total loss. :( 
By the time I managed to get a shearer to actually turn up (grr) to shear, it was July and all the Black Welsh fleeces were long since ruined. Not just from the months of ragged shedding, but also from so many long weeks in the heat and humidity. They were either felted on the outside like a shell (yuck). Or, just as bad, they were felted at the point of the rise -- where the new fleece grew through the old. 

I was relieved to finally get the fleeces off the animals, but was so disappointed to have nothing to show for my first year of tending the flock. 

So this year, as I notice the fleeces loosening, especially on the lambs, I'm determined not to let the same mistake happen. 

If we lived in a milder climate, like, oh, say, Wales, I'd shear them right now. 

But we don't, so I won't. I've got my fingers crossed for the return of mild Mr. Nino, but truthfully, we're just as likely looking at two more months of nights in the teens and single digits. Brr. Early March is probably the soonest I will dare to shear.

If I can manage to keep the fleeces from felting in the meantime, I've got some lovely things to look forward to. 

One of my favorites? 


Lovely little Brie is the daughter of skittish Black Welsh Eloise and dopey puppy dog Lincoln longwool Johnny Blue. She is the only lamb from the entire flock of last year's Black Welsh offspring that I am certain is Johnny's daughter. In fact I suspect she is Johnny's only lamb. Period. 

And her fleece is wonderful. 

I gave a couple of the fleeces a good tug this morning while their owners were busy at the hay feeder. You know, just to see if they were starting to release. (Not because I particularly enjoy harassing the poor sheep that way.)

This is what I got.

The lock on the left is from one of the older Black Welsh ewes. Short, crimpy, and still in nice condition. Pretty typical of the flock. 

The locks on the right are Brianna's. (Ok, I took a couple from her - I was so enamored.) She's got the length and a hint of the curl of a longwool, but otherwise the fineness, crimp, and color of the Black Welsh. Black as night and soft as a whisper in the hand.

Brianna - Black Welsh x Lincoln cross
Of course, to top it off she's as cute as she can be. She stands out in the crowd of little lookalike black lambs. She's so much boxier and fluffier than the rest of them.  Plus, her head sits right smack down on her shoulders with nothing in between, while the rest of them sport long slender necks that give them the look of tiny deer, rather than sheep. 

Yes, she's a cutie. Black Welsh x Lincoln turned out to be a great cross. I wish there were more of them. 

Not that I don't love all the little purebreds too. ;)

Friday, January 15, 2016


Found this print yesterday on the driveway right by my front door. The day before that I found a whole trail of similar prints emerging from the woods across the road, marching straight up the drive by the pony barn into the alpacas' area before disappearing.

Bigger than a cat's paw. Smaller than a big dog like our Boomerang.

Notice the claw prints at the top.

I'm 99% certain it's a coyote print.

I hear a pack yipping out by the creek in the fields behind our pastures almost every night, but I've never seen them come so close to the house or barns before.

We have so many little bitty sheep. It's a worry.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

And then it was over

Disappointed doesn't begin to describe my feelings toward Mr. Nino right now.

I'm trying to remember the good times.

The cool, carefree days in sweatshirts and jackets. The cascading water, straight through the hose to the buckets. The easy flow of animals in and out of fields still tinged with green grass and bramble stems. In and out of doors that slid easily on their tracks, back, and yes, forth.

The bare hands.

The sleep without worry.

Even the mud.

The promise of an endless stream of the same simple joys, straight through the winter that wasn't.


Yes, yes, ok, I admit it.

He never actually promised.

We were warned.

They all said, "Mid-January -- after that we don't know. Other forces could drive him away."

Mr. Arctic Blast.

Damn him.

Two degrees Fahrenheit.

Right on schedule.

George: We don't mind. We don't own any sweatshirts. It's parkas or nothing for us.  

Bo Sheep: Yeah, not so crazy about the mud actually. You try schlepping around in it all day every day in bare feet.

Clementine and Pink: Really, it's all about the hay. Did you bring the hay? 
Clementine: Hang in there Mom. He'll be back.