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Monday, December 12, 2011

Growing Up

Look,  it's little Rikki.  Isn't she getting big!  Don't know if you remember, but she is our Gotland X sheep and was out of quads this past spring and was our first bottle baby.  Hard to believe that less than a year ago she was bouncing around the house in diapers.  I don't think she remembers those days but she is still as friendly as ever and even went chasing after Clancy dog the other day.  Maybe she remembers sharing her bed with him.  She is quite a sweetie along with her two other siblings. Those Gottie sheep are pretty dam sweet.
Here is Rikki next to Sushi and Tsunami, her two sisters.  It is so amazing that we got those colors all out of one batch.  Rikki is turning grey under those spots, but Sushi is still white and Tsunami a dark brown.  It remains to be seen whether Tsunami and Sushi will remain that color or turn the typical Gotland grey like Rikki.  I am hopeful the colors will remain as they are.
Here is Rikki next to the yarn I spun from her first shearing.  I couldn't wait, her lamb fleece was so enticing I shore her early.  It was a bit short but I beat the yarn plenty so it would felt a bit and not fall apart.  It is a very soft, fuzzy yarn.  As you can see, Rikki didn't think too much of it.  Oh well, I like it. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fall Leaves and Scaling Back

Had one nice day for a hike in the woods
Had to go to Vermont to realize fall is upon us;  the weather here was too nice to notice.   We spent a lovely 5 nights in that beautiful state, much too short for a trip that far.  The weather was a bit wet but we did have one nice day for a little hike.  We stayed at a wonderful inn, the Huntington House, in the little town of Rochester.  Unfortunately the area was hit hard by hurricane Irene just weeks before and they were still in shock and still recovering.  While there we learned how the town, cut off from the outside world for 5 days and without electricity, pooled their resources and worked together to do what needed to be done.  Many of the towns folk we talked with told us a similar story of the whole village working together as a team.  It was heartening.  There were several families still living at the Inn as their homes had been destroyed.  We did view lots of destruction as little creeks had turned into raging torrents.
In the town of Rochester, Vt.
We were in Vermont, not only for a bit of a vacation, but to also attend the NASSA AGM which was held in conjunction with the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival.   The AGM was put on by Linda and Tut Doane, the first to import the Shetland sheep into the US.  I really wanted to go back there to get a better understanding of what the sheep were like, the sheep of the original importation.  Linda put on a great presentation (as well as a wonderful meal).  Many of her observations of the sheep over the years confirmed my understandings.  Her concerns for their future also match mine.   It was very Solidifying.  And we did get to see some pictures of the original sheep.  The big disappointment was that time did not allow us to visit their farm.  I guess we will have to return.

Miss Katrina getting dolled up for her "man"
On our return trip we began planning what we had been procrastinating on, breeding.  Not us, no the sheep!  As Tom has begun his new career and is a busy beaver in the wood shop and I feel I have stepped into the full time roll of cook, house cleaner, farmer, grounds keeper and Shepperd as well as holding down my other job outside the home, we have decided to simplify whatever we can to make things around the farm a bit easier.  So this year there will be a limited supply of McTavish Farm Shetland lambs.  If you might be interested, we are breeding just 3 of our best ewes and rams.  It is a big cut back from the 9 we bred last year.  I am looking forward to a very easy and enjoyable lambing season this spring! 

Oh and one other thing.  While we were in Vermont we were able to personally deliver two of Tom's spinning wheels.  It was a bit stressful, unpacking them, making sure they were in complete working order and getting them to their new owners at a "pouring down rain" sheep festival.  But it all came together and the new owners seemed very pleased.   Check out these blogs:  and  to read about their excitement.   There are some very nice pictures and humorous accounts of the "delivery".   This may be another reason we head east in the future.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What's Happening....

Oh so much is happening that I really haven't had time to write.  The garden exploding, the fruit trees dropping their precious cargo, sheep shows, future travel all keeping us running at full speed.   So here is an attempt to catch up in a quick way.

One of our little hen chickens finally found a very special place to hatch out a bunch of chicks.  A place out of the way of the farmer who searches out eggs to keep this very event from happening.  She disappeared for a few weeks;  we thought she had been eaten.  But no.  I got a call from hubby while I was at work.  He was in a desperate panic as to what to do with all these babies that were spreading around the pasture as the sheep were all trying to get a better look at these little bitty beings.  He was successful at chicken rounding and now they have a safe corner of the barn and are growing....all 13 of them!!!!

Momma trying to hide her little ones from me.

Let me know if you need any chickens.

Check out the nice little ditty done by Michele Ranard about McTavish Farm on her blog Hello Lovely.  It's very sweet.

Also if you missed it,  Natalie Kilkenny did a great job interviewing us a few weeks ago about sheep and wheels.  Scroll down to episode 32 to hear about us.  You have to download the podcast to hear it.

This past weekend was the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival.  We were originally not going to bring any sheep, but then at the last minute decided we should bring just three, an abbreviated McTavish Farm Sheep team.  It turned out to be very busy, lots of people to talk to and lots to see.  The sheep, Ninkasi, Miso and Rudy had a good time training passerbys to pet them in just the right place. 
Of course I need to toot my own horn a bit.  I entered my felt vest in the fiber arts show.  I have never had a piece worthy enough to win an award so I wasn't expecting much.  But hey, I got a Judge's Choice award for best felted item and she wanted me to make one for her!  They unfortunately forgot to put my champion ribbon on the vest during the show, so I was a bit disappointed others didn't see.  So to make up for it, here is the finished vest with ribbon and all.
vest with "champion" ribbon

close up of horn button

So now we are madly packing for our Vermont trip.  Heading to the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival.   Will have more to write about that on our return.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fences again.....

     It seems we are always redoing fences or mostly just adding to them.  Just when you think you have the perfect set up there can always be a better way.  In looking at our ram area we could see some potential pitfalls including one length of funky electric netting super entangled in weeds.  Not so secure if the electricity goes out and some ram gets smart.  In hopes of making our trip this fall (a.k.a. breeding season) and leaving the farm to our sitter, we thought we should look close at our ram area and this particular length of fence.  See, they sense when you are away.  They will make escape plans and break out just as you are the farthest away from the farm.  They would love to break in with the girls and have a big ol' party.  So to thrwart their plans we decided we needed to replace this section of fence.
     Most Shetland breeders we know, us included, house rams in separate quarters from the ewes for a couple reasons.  Firstly in order to register lambs with NASSA (North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Assoc.), we need to know who the sire is.  Secondly, as we like to spend time with our babes and ewes, petting and the like, having a ram in with them can be a bit dangerous;  just look at those horns!  So our rams are kept at opposite ends of the property, with many fences between them.  So far we've only had one escape (of course while we were away;  you can get the full story from our neighbors) but no reprocussions (that would be lambs).   We'd like to keep it at that.
    Once we decided we needed another fence (or maybe it was just me) the question was, who will build it. Tom, the fiscally prudent one of the family as well as the talented builder/fix-it/handy dandy repair man, usually does the deed. I had some hope in my mind that he might decline this job, as much as I like his fences, he just doesn't have the time lately to actually finish something like that. Tom, on the other hand, is Mr. optomist and, not really being all that in touch with his calendar, is usually inclined to say yes.   So when I broached the subject with him, my fingers and toes crossed,  I was pleasantly surprized to hear "how about Greenhill Fence Co.". YES! 

     I called them and within in a week they had a new ram fence built and ready for use.  Now our rams are happily (at least in our opinion) contained in their ram area.  They can loaf around on the hillside and look out yonder in the far distance at the girls.  If they try to escape, they will have to really work at it.  And this Fall we will leave the farm to our sitter with no worries and no middle of the night phone calls.  Cross you fingers!
Our boys behind their new fence "girl watching" from afar.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Another learning experience......

Chalk it up to education, my mother always says when things don't go as planned.  Seems we are always learning new things around here.  Just when you think you have it all worked out on the farm mother nature throws you another curve ball.  This year I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about internal parasites related to sheep. 
We have always done the traditional parasite treatments and more recently have tried to use the dewormers a bit more sparingly, using more of the FAMACHA system on the adult sheep.  This helps avoid your worms becoming resistant to the dewormers.  I am also aware of the explosion of worms around the time of lambing so try to treat accordingly.  But this year things, for various reasons some which I will explain, seem to have gotten a bit away from us.   First off we had more lambs than in past years, 16 in total.  Secondly,  as you may have noticed if you live in the Pacific NW, we have had an unusually wet spring/summer.  Moisture, combined with warmth, is a perfect environment for the hatching of parasites.  Sheep are generally susceptible to worms.  They were meant to graze vast areas of land, not the same little paddock week after week.  They graze close to the ground where those little wormies like to hang out.   Another happening fact, like other organisms in our life, they are  becoming resistant to our treatments.  Many areas around the country, particularly the south, these parasites have become resistant to the conventional dewormers we typically use on sheep.  From my talks with other shepherds around these parts I believe it is starting to happen here as well.   Anyway, this year we were able to see first hand how destructive these buggers can be on little lambs.  Although we have not lost any lambs, most of ours have developed varying degrees of anemia, and, in spite of our rich feedings, are not putting on the usual weight.  We've also had a few cases of lamb pneumonia and plenty of coughing lambs.   As the weather is drying we now finally getting a handle on it.  We have done some strategic dewormings and are monitoring the anemia closely, although that will take a bit of time for them to recover from.
So from the lessons of this year we will make a few changes for next year.  We will have less lambs  for sure, that has many added benefits including more time with each lamb so in the end they will all be more friendly.  We have less animals in total, lower stocking rate equals less parasites. We will put newly weaned lambs on "clean" pasture, that is a different paddock than the moms were on and hopefully not as contaminated.  We may also have our lambing a bit later in the season so the pastures are dryer, something mother nature will have to help us with too.  And we will monitor very closely.  Certainly I will always have more to learn, but isn't that one of the joys of life!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Messy Sheep

     Seems like it is always something.  You want the grass to grow, and then it does, but then it goes to seed.  Some of those nasty seedheads stick to soft, fine fleeces and then you have a mess.  Nobody wants to spin a fleece with prickly seeds in it.   So much for fine, soft fleeces with low micron counts!  It is a difficult problem to deal with.  The tiny black burrs grow against the woven wire fence and the little ones like to reach through the fence (remember grass is always greener....) then the seeds stick to their fine neck fleece.  No fun to pluck out.  This year also seems particularly bad for those foxtails.  They are the ones that can ruin your socks with one run through the pasture.  We have mowed them, bagged them and tried to get rid of the seed heads for a few years now and they seem to get worse every year.  Short of  field burning I am not sure what else to do.  And of course the sheep don't like to eat them so the problem continues.  I guess we'll be resigned to sitting in the pastures and picking fleeces, on the sheep of course.  And for some reason, my sheep seem to love that attention.  Maybe they bring it on themselves???

      Back from the Black Sheep Gathering.  Every year I think how lucky we are to have such a fine fiber fair in our own town, just minutes from our house.  It was busy this year, showing sheep, fleeces, fiber creations and participating in the spinners' lead.  Tom also presented his first "handcrafted by Tom" spinning wheel!  He has been apprenticing with Magnus Drudik, driving to Salem once a week for the past 6 months.  And now he has something to show for all that work.  It created quite a stir at the show and we spent lots of time retelling the story.  At one point, as my sentences no longer were making any sense, I suggested that he just put that wheel back in the car.
                                                     Ninki and Rudy getting lots of attention
     People are asking how we "did" at the show.  Well I can say our sheep placed middle of the road in a class of a lot of very fine Shetlands.  Competition is tough and  I guess the judge didn't find anything we had particularly exceptional (of course I beg to differ!).  But we did do well in the wool show, placing 2nd and 3rd in the mature Shetland.  Julia and Strudel came through for us.  I got a blue ribbon on my felted vest and lots of positive feedback from my strut through the spinners' lead.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Weaning Time

Rikki was the first in line for weaning.  She was 10 weeks old and the milk bag was empty.  Her parents were darn tired of remembering to bring out the bottle every 8 hours.  Of course Rikki wasn't too keen on the idea, even though her belly looked plenty full just from the grass, and at times she just couldn't finish that big bottle of milk.  How much can you cram into a little sheep belly?  The thought of all that grass topped with a little milk, yuck!  So Rikki was the first lamb of the season to go vegan.  She still gives us the complete body search when she sees us, just to make sure we aren't hiding a bottle of milk in there somewhere.
     The other lambs had there mommies taken away at a little over 11 weeks of age.  The moms seemed ready, some looked like a bag of bones, the babes were sucking the life right out of them.  So last week we moved the moms into the lower paddocks and put in the earplugs.  Fortunately the weather was a bit cooler, less stress on the babies and more likely that the neighbors have their windows closed.  Oh and there was yelling.  We did get one neighbor calling about whether or not we had purchased a special noise permit from the county.  No, but they were just kidding, thank god.  All our neighbors are saints in that way. 
     So now everyone looks pretty settled.  The moms are quiet and drying up.  The babes are happy with the special foods they are getting and having the run of the barn.  All is quiet on McTavish Farm, except for the sound of the grass growing!
Little Kiki, a young ewe lady now!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Felting Fun

Yesterday I decided I needed to give myself a bit of a break and just "play". It was a holiday after all. I had been planning for sometime to try to felt a 3-d project and picked a vest as that seemed doable. About 3 years ago we had a yearling that got sick and then just never got her health back to snuff; a failure to thrive. We ended up having to put her down; a sad decision, but the right one. Sometime before we did the deed I had sheared her. As she had been sick and I did not want her to get cold, I did not shear her in February with the rest of the gang but waited until later that spring when she had begun to shed it. By that time is was well matted and I was able to cut it off her in one piece, almost like a pelt. I held onto this partially felted piece as it was lovely with lots of luster and softness, and I had memories of her.  My aspirations were to actually do something with this fiber.

Well yesterday I actually had the energy to act on what had been fermenting in the back of my brain all that time. I had been thinking about using Mandi's fleece to incorporate it into a felted vest. I consulted my felting books and came up with a plan to do the seams in one piece rather than do a flat piece and sew it together later. I had some very fine, soft Shetland wool, fawn color, from a ram we had (he had also since died, really, most of our sheep are healthy!). To save time I ran some of it through my picker and a bit through the carder. I had also died some of it a orange red. To add a bit of contrast I carded up a bit of very dark brown fleece as well. So in total I had 3 oz of fawn from the picker, 3 oz of fawn in carded batts, 1 oz of fawn overdyed red/orange, .3 oz black and 10 oz of Mandi's partially felted fleece.

Red and fawn fiber laid out, the carded batt not yet added.
I laid out a sheet of plastic on my fiber room floor then a big old white sheet. I drew out a rectangle measuring 3 ft by 6 ft to allow for shrinkage. I put down layers of the fiber starting with the red, then fawn, then some tufts of black, then cut up the Mandi fleece in chunks and laid it out as evenly as I could.

Close up of all the layers ready to be felted together.

Working on the side seams
I put some screening over it and wet it down with soapy water. Then I put on some rockin music and danced around on it for awhile, leaving the sides dry and undisturbed. I rolled it around my big PVC pipe and rocked it back and forth on the countertop. When it was holding together enough I unrolled it and "glued" together the seams. I used some sheeting between the layers and feathered the sides together. Then wrapped it more around the tube for more rolling.

When it was held together fairly well, but still quite large, I unrolled it and cut the front opening, neck and arm openings. At that point I moved upstairs to the bathtub. I used some bubble wrap and my hands, more hot water and soap and rubbed it all over to firm it up. At that point I began to realize it was very close in time to our proposed dinner date with our neighbors! Not wanting to leave it unfinished, I bit my lip and threw it in our front loading washing machine.

As we were getting ready to go out the door the wash was finished and I pulled it out. It looked a bit like a child's size but I pinned down hubby and made him put it on so we could stretch the begeezes out of it. And it worked! Now I have my new vest I'll name "Wild Thing". My sheep won't recognize me!

New felted vest, just needs some sort of button closure.

Monday, March 28, 2011

More Lamb Pics

Rahab and her girl Roslyn

Scarlet and her ewe lamb

Katie's kids enjoying a fleeing bit of sunshine

3 black lambs playing in the mud!

Kiki and Zora, the 2 girls out of a triplet set.  Rudy, their look alike brother is playing in the mud!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lambing Completed

Hurray!  We have finished and can now rest through the night, well except for the feeding of little Rikki  (but she is so cute it's hardly a bother).   We ended the season with 10 ewe lambs and 6 ram lambs (compared to last year where we had 4 ewe lambs and 11 ram lambs).  All are healthy and bouncing off the walls.  We only had to assist with one birthing.  That was with Aurora who had triplets and unfortunately one of the lambs had died and was trying to be delivered shoulder first.  Lambs generally do assist in their own birth but when they are dead that makes it more difficult.  Tom and I were pleased to be able to right the situation and get out the other two quickly, no vet calls (yes!).  She had a girl and a boy.   All are doing well. 
This is Aurora's boy "Nomad"

A nice feature of this lambing is that we did not have any middle of the night issues.  All lambed at reasonable hours.  The early morning ones, around 4 am, did it all by themselves and had babies fed by the time we made our barn check at 6 am.   That included Strudel who had triplets! 

Strudel with her "Kiki" and "Zora".  Her ram lamb is hidden behind her, sleeping.

Tom working on "lamb socialization"

Little "Rikki" not sure if she likes it here in the barn, the house is better.

Well I guess it's ok, if I can sleep in the hay.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spoiled Sheep

So little Rikki now has a new, doting mother.  That would me none other than my mother.  It is the grandchild she will never have.  Rikki now wears diapers and is tromping around her house.  Mom's cats think she has lost her mind.  Rikki is doing well with the bottle and traveling in the car in a cat bed.  Yes a very spoiled little sheep.  My only stipulation is that she is brought back to the farm on a daily basis and given supervised playtime with the other lambs in the barn (sin diapers).  I do not want her to forget she is a sheep!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Meet Rikki

So Miss Rory had her 4 lambs but decided this one cried too much so guess who gets to take care of her.  She was 3#6oz at birth (her brother and sisters were around twice that much).  She has taken well to the bottle and now weighs more like 4 #.  She follows me around very closely, and yes she is now coming in the house! Wait until Tom gets home.
This is our very first bummer lamb in the 10 or so years we have been doing this.  Since we still have a few ewes to lamb I am hopeful one might adopt her.  We shall see.  In the meantime she is getting lots of love and sleeps in my lap as I write this.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rory has a Party

At day 145 Rory decides to go into labor conveniently in the late afternoon, shortly before I am heading home from work.  Tom was in charge that Friday.  By the time I got home she had just delivered her 2nd lamb and was busy cleaning it up.  But then another came. Three on the ground, we are scrambling to get them nursing then another water bag appeared.  OMG a 4th on it's way.  The first three were girls, the last a boy.  It was a challenge making sure they all had there first drink of milk and knew where to find it.  There were lambs everywhere, hard to keep them all straight.  But they are a nice variety of colors, don't you think?  Now to figure out how to take care of all them. 
This is the first time we have ever had a "litter" of this size.   Singles and twins are the norm, at least once a year we have a set of triplets.  But this is insane.  There is definately a little supplementing of food that will have to happen.
This is a picture of Rory taken two days before.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wide Load

As you can see by the pictures we are getting closer to lambing.  The nine ewes we bred are all looking bigger, some look like they are going to twin, some just a single, and then the other, namely Rory, looks like she will have a triplets or maybe more!  Of course Rory (see above) is our 50% Gotland, 25% Shetland and 25% Finn so is a bit bigger already than the rest of those in the flock.  Apparently Finn sheep are quite prolific so I wouldn't be surprized if she didn't pop out 4 of them.  I wonder if at this point they sense what is coming?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Shearing our own.....

About 5 years ago my hubby Tom and I decided to learn to shear.   Our motivation to take this on was the losing our dear shearer to retirement, how could she do this to us?  We tried out a few others after her but they just weren't the same, leaving our sheep with multiple band aids and fleeces full of 2nd cuts.  We thought we could do better.  So that spring we picked out our victim, poor little Alliette sheep.   She was a smaller sheep, friendly and mellow.  Perfect for practice.  Our intentions were to learn how to do it like the professionals, that is roll the sheep around on the floor, bend over them with the shears and get the fleece off in one piece.  I had copied about 10 pages of pictures of the various positions for clipping from a Kevin Fords Hand Shearing book and set Tom up with sheep in hand.  I thought it would be natural for the "man" of the house to do the shearing and on that first attempt I would look at the pictures and instruct him. 
It was two hours later that we finally finished up poor, patient Alliette.  I think the whole fiasco just about broke up our marriage.  I would watch, try to instruct, show him the pictures but then end up grabbing the sheep and doing it myself.  What became apparent was that I was a bit more adept at the process than Tom.  Perhaps I had been observing the shearers more than he and could remember the positions better.  Anyway that is how it evolved.
So for that past two years we have done all the shearing of our sheep, usually around 25.   We are still not to the professional level yet, and I say "we" because we have developed a "two person" technique where by I hold the electric shears, get the sheep between my legs and roll them around like the pro's but then Tom is my helper, grabbing head or legs as needed or he responds to my "grab the sheep" before the sheep pops up and runs off.  We have become quite a team and at best can get a fleece off with minimum of sheep cuts and 2nd cuts in about 10 min.  Lots of improvement since the original two hours.  (Just for a fun fact a real pro can shear a sheep in about 3 minutes.)  Our record for sheep shorn in one day now sits at 9, last year we could only do 4 before my back felt like it was breaking.  Not bad for an ol' gal! 
Presently we have finished our ewes and will move onto the rams this next weekend.  Fortunately there are only 4 to do.  Piece of cake!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Everyone needs a haircut......... seems this time of year.  First off it is the trees.  They need pruning;  the fruit bearing ones that is.  We have some very old, well established apple and pear trees.  This past couple years we have had quite a haul of fruit from these trees.  Just this last week we ate our last fresh pear.  They preserved quite well just sitting in the dark in the back of our carport, slowly ripening.  I dried quite a few as well, and we continue to enjoy them.  So back to the pruning, I feel obligated to continue this yearly tradition, in spite of all the work.  There are the rewards. 
      Then there are the sheep, who are quite the hairballs at the moment.  At feeding time I find myself "oogling" the lovely fleeces of the ones who allow me.  I ponder the relative softness, luster and color of each, and wonder what they might look and feel like in a final project.  Of course I cannot, repeat CANNOT keep them all!  My first priority is their sales.  I have plenty in my fiber closet at present, plenty of potential projects.  So please, if you want to help me limit my fiber accumulation let me know which type, color of fleece you might want and I can put your name on it.  Come shearing, which is just around the corner, you will have a lovely, soft pile of someone's winter coat ready for your own project.  Haircut time is near!
This is Runa.
She wants to be first on the shearing list.