This past weekend was our fall shearing day. I have been looking forward to seeing all my summer fleeces; they look so much better after being outside on pasture all summer than coming out of being in the barn all winter. I was not disappointed!
We sheared all 38 sheep, including yearlings and lambs that did not get sheared in the spring. This means I have over 15 fleeces with 10"+ staple length, and most were stunning! I have decided to not shear my lambs until the fall, and let yearlings go a year after their first shearing to better evaluate the fleece genetics in my flock. It has definitely been useful to see which sheep are able to grow a year of fleeces that remain open and beautiful, without matting. The ewes that are able to grow a dense, lustrous and open fleece will be the ones I keep for breeding.
It was not only my long stapled fleeces that I was excited about, but my "normal" fleeces with 6 months of growth. Many of my ewes had fleeces that were 6" or longer since just May! Even Colin (my shearer) commented on the staple length this shearing. The only change we have made is grazing on the new pasture that we seeded last fall. This pasture has a very high percentage of white clover, which adds more protein to the diet than a regular grass pasture, which could've contributed to better fleece growth throughout the spring and summer. Since I started grazing my ewes on pasture with no access to the barn, my fleece quality has improved so much- they have clean, open locks that make skirting a dream! There is no straw, and the dew/rain washes out any dirt.
I have lots of orders to start filling, so let the skirting begin!
Vacuuming the carpet and changing the sheets are things we do to clean our own houses, but cleaning my sheeps' house (ie. the barn) looks a little bit different! We finally have had the opportunity to do a big clean out this week that involves the tractor, a manure spreader and a some muscles.
Cleaning out the barn involves taking down the wooden gates, shuffling the sheep around and putting bucket load after bucket load of manure into the spreader. We are lucky to own enough land that we are able to spread the manure right behind the barn. A local dairy farm rents our fields, so we had to wait for the corn to be chopped off before we could clean the barns this year. The manure spread on the fields will be used as fertilizer for next year's corn crop. We borrow the spreader from a friend down the road, which is very helpful!
This job is very muddy (always), very stinky, and a lot of work but looks so good when we are done! I'm not entirely sure the sheep notice a difference, but it makes me feel better knowing they're on a cleaner pack. Half of our barn has a concrete floor and the other half has a dirt floor. Lambing takes place in the half with concrete, so we want to give the sheep enough time to build up a bit of a manure pack to keep the floor warmer in the wintertime.
I am SO thankful for my dad who did this project entirely on his own while I was at work during the week. He's a trooper! It looks so much better and we can continue our prep for the winter.
If you weren't at the Purple Pained Lady or the Naples Grape Festival, you might've been at the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival this weekend! Every year in September, fiber artists from around the Rochester area and beyond gather at the Hemlock fairgrounds for the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival. Organized by the Genesee Valley Handspinner's Guild, this festival is a fun time to meet up with other shepherds, fiber artists and old friends.
While I have yet to take advantage of the many classes offered, I love to go to pick up some local yarn (as if I need any more...) and catch up with friends I haven't seen in a while. This year I decided to take my grandma and spend the afternoon browsing gorgeous fiber.
As I continue to build the fiber side of my business, fiber festivals are a great way to see how others package, display and market their wool. There's a lot to be learned from others and the fiber community is a very caring community who is very willing to talk with me and share ideas.
One friend I stopped to talk to was Holly of Peartree Farm. She has beautiful Teeswater sheep that are also a British longwool breed. I went to high school with her kids and it fun to now connect on fiber. She taught me how to spin last winter and has been a great mentor of mine as I begin to delve into the world of fiber. Holly is a talented spinner who makes beautiful art yarns spinning with the locks of her sheep. She recommends "Ideas & Patterns for Art Yarns" and "Unleash Your Inner Design Power" as great books for knitting and creating with art yarns. I would love to do make some of these amazing patterns with my Lincoln Locks. Someday...
The other person I enjoyed talking with was Karen of Windsong Wensleydales. Wensleydales are yet another British Longwool breed. Though different than the Lincoln, I loved her display and how she is marketing the beautiful locks. Karen spent a lot of time talking to me about preparing the longwool fleeces for sale and how best to package the roving and locks. I learned so much and am very thankful for the time she spent chatting! We had previously connected through the LocalFiber community in Ithaca and it was great to chat again. I hope to take her up on her offer to come visit and play with wool sometime soon!
There were several vendors offering Shave 'Em to Save 'Em passport stickers, which was great to see. If you live in the Western New York area, it's worth checking out this great little fiber festival for beautiful yarns, fibers and classes! Add it to your calendar for next September.
For years I have been dreaming of creating a flock yarn out of my wool. This past winter I finally decided to make the investment and do it! I had a beautiful crop of lamb fleeces last fall and felt they would make the perfect first batch of farm yarn.
I really value local systems and having my yarn be a completely "New York" product was important to me, so I enlisted the help of Battenkill Fiber Mill to process my fiber. The owner, MJ, and I have been friends for several years, interacting through both the fiber and general NY agricultural circles. Since I know relatively little about the spinning process and what yarn would best show the characteristics of my wool, I trusted her to do what she thought would be best!
What I received was an absolutely gorgeous 2-ply DK weight yarn with amazing luster and softness unlike traditional Lincoln Longwool yarns, thanks to using lamb's wool!. She separated out the natural colored fleeces to develop two different gray colorways and I could not be more impressed!
The yarn came back from the mill in 4 oz skeins. Each skein is around 225 yards. I have spent the spring and summer washing the skeins and prepping them for sale. I'm still working on the ideal label, but am happy with my first attempt. It is so fun to look at the finished skeins and think " that's my wool!". I'm currently working on getting an online store finally set up.
I decided to name this yarn "Empire", to encompass the fact that it is a New York product and also go with my farm name, Orchard View. The Empire apple was developed at Cornell University in the 1940's and this sweet, crisp apple is one of my favorites. Many of you know Cornell is my alma mater, so the name Empire is relevant to me on several levels. As I continue to develop yarn lines, I hope to keep with the apple variety theme.
Need suggestions on what to make with this yarn? Once the weather cools and I have a little more time, I'm planning on making this hat (by recommendation of MJ, who spun the yarn), a cowl like this one or this one, and a shawl similar to this one or this one. Maybe I'll try my hand at my first sweater this winter; I've been eyeing this one for years and the charcoal gray might just be perfect!
Stay tuned as I play with the yarn and knit up some samples, but don't hold your breath because it won't be until the weather gets cooler this fall. I'd love to know if you have any pattern ideas that might work with this drapy, lustrous yarn. Or better yet- if you have completed projects, I'd love to see them!
Even though winter seems so far away right now, it's time to start prepping for those chillier days! As my flock has grown, our need for hay has also grown. Thankfully, we have a great neighbor just a mile down the road that is able to bale all the hay we need for the year. It is just a basic grass hay with a little bit of clover and it provides adequate nutrition for the sheep. He delivers the wagons right to the farm and with some help from friends, we get the bales unloaded and into the mow. With two people unloading bales onto the elevator and two people stacking up in the mow, the process goes pretty quickly. Despite all the rain this spring, July has brought beautiful baling weather! We got 10 wagons unloaded in 4 evenings over the past couple weeks. Thankfully, it wasn't too hot until the last night!
This year, we put almost 1,000 bales up in the mow. We can now sit back and enjoy the rest of the summer knowing that the sheep will be well fed this winter.
There's a holiday that shepherds celebrate one to two times per year... shearing day! Raising a longwool breed of sheep means that shearing happens twice for us; spring (April/May) and fall (November). I've known my shearer, Colin, since our 4-H days and he comes out from Connecticut to help with the task.
The first thing we do is separate the sheep into groups. This spring, we only sheared the mature ewes who had lambs over the winter, and the rams. The lambs and yearlings won't be sheared until the fall, as I am striving for longer fleeces in my flock. Having everyone separated and penned up at the start helps the day run efficiently. Once we get started, it's an "assembly line" of shearing, packing wool, hoof trimming and deworming. I help corral/catch the sheep, Colin shears, and my friend Anna is the designated hoof trimmer. Sheep's hooves grow just like our fingernails and need to be regularly trimmed. After the sheep are sheared is a great opportunity to do this, along with giving them a dewormer as the pasture is just coming on strong. Meanwhile, I inspect each fleece both on and off the sheep and decide whether it should be kept, and what it should be used for (sold raw, processed, etc.).
Shearing provides a great opportunity for the shepherd to inspect all the sheep and determine how they recovered from lambing, their udder health, hoof health, and overall condition. While I'm in the barn 1-2x/day throughout the year, I don't necessarily get up close and personal with every sheep like we do on shearing day.
This spring, we sheared 25 sheep and it took us 4 hours. We might not be the fastest crew out there, but going a bit slower reduces our stress, which in turn is less stressful on the sheep. And we have a fun time doing it as well! We always start with donuts and coffee and end the day with pizza from our favorite pizza shop in town.
I have a handful of winter fleeces available for purchase. Winter fleeces aren't the highest quality, as ewes use much of their energy for growing and feeding their lambs. There is also a bit higher vegetative matter (VM) since they have been fed hay all winter long. But, with a little love they would make an excellent raw fleece!
Now is the fun part, watching them grow their wool back all summer long.
At no point when I started raising sheep as a 12 year old, did I ever think I would reach the point where lambing season concluded with 40 LAMBS, but here we are. This year's lambing season seemed to drag out longer than usual (starting January 9th and ending yesterday, April 9th), even though it started a few days late and I was gone for several weeks in the middle of it. It's amazing how much the weather in July and August seem to dictate how the lambing season goes.
Here are a few stats of this year's lambs:
24 Ewe lambs
16 Ram lambs
31 Natural colored Lincolns
5 White Lincolns
For once, it seems like the ewe:ram ration is in my favor! We had the least number of singles in a few years, which is fantastic, and even had two sets of triplets. And only one bottle lamb, which makes me quite happy.
No lambing season ends without problems, and this year we did lose a couple lambs and one ewe, all to issues that likely couldn't have been prevented. We did have a miracle lamb this year that got polio and was touch-and-go for about 48 hours and after aggressive Vitamin B supplements, has recovered fully. After 15 years of lambing, I had no idea until this year that polio caused by vitamin B deficiency is even something that can happen to lambs!
We ultrasounded our ewes for the first time in late November and only had one come up open. But, come mid-February, it became very clear that was indeed NOT open. She rounded out our lambing season with a vaginal prolapse and lambing several days after her last possible due date (the rams came out on shearing day, 11/5).
I'm always amazed at how I continue to learn annually and encounter new problems. You'd think that after 15 years and nearly 300 lambs, we would've seen it all, but that never seems to be the case! So far, the lambs are growing well and I look forward to many going to their new homes over the next month. We still have lambs for sale if you are interested! :D
Many of you know how passionate I am about preserving rare breeds of sheep, hence part of my decision to raise Lincoln Longwools. The Livestock Conservancy is an amazing organization dedicated to preserving endangered livestock breeds from extinction. The Lincoln Longwool is listed as "threatened" by this organization.
The Livestock Conservancy currently has an awesome initiative to encourage fiber artists to use wool from the 22 sheep breeds on the Conservation Priority List. The Shave 'Em to Save 'Em campaign began in January and will run for three years. The campaign encourages fiber artists to buy and use the fiber from breeds on its Conservation Priority list in a project. This can include spinning, knitting, felting or other fiber arts. When you purchase wool from a producer who is registered with the campaign, you will receive a sticker to put into your "passport". You earn prizes for using 5, 10 or 15 breeds, and more importantly, you are helping to increase the commercial and financial viability of raising rare and heritage breeds. To find the rules in the files section, along with announcements and discussion, visit their Facebook Page, Ravelry Page, or visit www.rarewool.org!
Here's how you can participate:
1) Sign up as a Fiber Artist at www.rarewool.org
2) Buy wool from rare breed Fiber Providers and get a sticker in their “passport"
3) Share pictures of their projects on Facebook and/or Ravelry
4) Earn great prizes!
I am registered as a fiber producer with the campaign, already have my stickers for you and am ready to ship you gorgeous rare breed wool! I hope all of your fiber artists out there consider supporting rare breeds and participate in this great opportunity.
Last month, I had the opportunity to visit Kenya for ten days, as part of an agricultural leadership program called LEAD New York. This two year program ends with an international capstone trip to learn about agriculture and development in a developing country. While I could do a whole series on this trip, I wanted to highlight something I learned about and saw: the Red Maasai breed of sheep. First of all, I don't think I have ever seen so many cattle, sheep and goats in my life! They are everywhere: along the highway, in the medians, grazing everywhere you look whether you are in Nairobi or out in rural areas! As I am not nearly interested in cattle and goats as I am sheep, I wanted to share a little about this interesting heritage breed.
The first time I heard of the Red Maasai sheep was during our second day, on a visit to Brown's Cheese. Delia and Andrew Stirling (both Cornell alumni!) are one of the only artisan cheese makers in East Africa. They source much of their milk from smallholder farms who have, on average, 2 cows and only a handful of sheep or goats. The are both passionate about working with NGOs to conduct research on how locals can improve the nutritional quality of their milk. The majority of these farmers live off of what they cannot sell, so helping to improve fat and protein content of the milk is beneficial for their families as well as cheese quality.
In addition to working projects related to cattle nutrition, they are also interested in preserving the Red Maasai breed of sheep. The Red Maasai traditionally belong to the Maasai people, one of the largest tribes in Kenya and East Africa. But, they are currently on the verge of extinction, as they are routinely bred with Dorper sheep for better growth and conditioning. They are hoping that creating a cheese with Red Maasai milk will help promote this traditional breed. The cheese is inspired by mursik, a traditional Kenyan yogurt that is smoked, fermented, and preserved with charcoal. We had the opportunity to try the cheese. Similar in style to a pecorino, it is a unique blackish color from ash (made from banana leaves) and has a unique flavor as well. As much as I wanted to like it, it wasn't my favorite cheese I tried that day, but I love the mission behind it. Brown's has several Red Maasai sheep that live at their farm that they have for demonstration. I highly recommend the trip out to their farm for a lunch if you ever find yourself in the Nairobi area!
After this day, I began to notice Red Maasai sheep and crosses everywhere. They are fatty tailed, hair breed sheep with a very distinctive and beautiful red color. They are known for their hardiness in arid conditions and have great internal parasite resistance. They are called Maasai sheep because they are traditionally raised by the Maasai people of East Africa who are pastoralists. It is a traditional belief that the Rain God entrusted livestock to the Maasai when the earth and the sky split, and according to legend the Red Maasai sheep was the first animal kept by the Maasai. Dorper sheep were introduced in the 1970's, so most of the sheep now are crosses. But, just like any other heritage breed, preserving the Red Maasai sheep is important for genetic diversity.
Here is a collection of Red Maasai sheep photos of my trip. Enjoy!
A few weeks ago, I wrote about ewe #223 who gave birth to two stillborn lambs. She was able to give the gift of colostrum to future lambs in our flock. Since then, she has continued to give an amazing gift to our flock. The following day, a ewe gave birth to triplet lambs and only wanted to take care of one of them. By the time we realized that the other mother was rejecting two of her lambs, they were already dried off and the placenta discarded, so we couldn't utilize that method of attaching the lambs to a new mother.
Since this was only 24 hours after #223 gave birth, she still had a lot of milk and we began tying her up to let the rejected lambs nurse. She didn't seem to mind, as long she had a halter on and was tied up. After nursing, we would put the lambs back with their own mother, but began to notice her being violent towards the two. So, we gave #223 a shot of oxytocin to boost her mothering instincts and put the lambs in a small jug with her. Unlike their own mother who kept pushing the lambs away, #223 began sniffing them and showing a bit of interest in them. After another 48 hours and another shot of oxytocin, she began to give the "mother baa" and accept the two lambs as her own!
There are so many situations during lambing season that take a lot of patience, but this one of the times where patience really pays off! It's often time consuming and annoying to tie a ewe up every time you go to the barn to feed or do a lamb check, but the two lambs are healthy, growing well and we avoided having two bottle lambs (which would be even more work)! We are even more thankful for #223.
Emmaline Long, main owner of Orchard View Farm, has a passion for Lincoln sheep and loves educating others about her breed and farm, She currently serves as the Vice President of the National Lincoln Breeders Association.
Subscribe to my blog using the link below to receive emails when a new post is up!