Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lessons from the Flock-Our Tenth Year Anniversary

Our First Hoof Trim
This past November marked our tenth year as shepherds. When I think back over our ten years of living with sheep, we have learned much about shepherding, ourselves, and the natural rhythms of the life and death cycle. I vividly remember the first day we brought 3 sheep home in the back of a borrowed pick up truck. It rained the whole way home, and having no cap on the back, my husband sat in the back of the truck with the sheep,  making sure they did not jump over the edge.

As with most things in my life, I learn best with practical, hands-on experience. There is nothing like having three little sheep staring at you to motivate you. Simple chores of giving shots and trimming hooves seemed like monumental tasks 10 years ago.  We had read books and talked with many people, but we had never actually been in the company of sheep. The local university extension service knew us well as we sought out every course offered on animal husbandry. Within a short amount of time, we got our feet under us as new shepherds.

Our First Sheep

Lessons from the Flock

Living with sheep has taught us patience and perseverance in adversity, compassion and calmness, the value of observation and strength in numbers. They have taught us the beauty in life, the miracle of birth, and reverence in death. I never would have imagined all the wisdom and knowledge a little flock of sheep can impart. We have grown accustomed to living with sheep, and the lessons they teach us. We can not imagine life without them.

Our first two lambs-Azalea and Aaron

 I Never Wanted to Shear Sheep tells a story of the rhythm of life and death on a farm.
One Day in the Life of a Shepherd follows a shepherd through the day during lambing season.
How Our Homestead Began tells our story as beginning farmers.
Make Hay While the Sun Shines tells about feeding our sheep.

My favorite sheep/shepherding book:
Living with Sheep by Chuck Wooster

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Yarn Along - A Sweater for the Christmas Box

The Christmas Box
A story of love, hope, and healing, Richard Evans first wrote The Christmas Box as an expression of his love for his two daughters. It quickly entered the homes of millions of readers, whose hearts were touched by his writing. Since discovering Evans' book, I have either read the book or watched the movie every Christmas season. Last night, after doing some knitting, I pulled my copy off the shelf and began reading it.

I continue to knit on what I hope to put into a Christmas box under our tree for my husband. (the same sweater in last week's post) I have designed a gansey sweater as my expression of love for him and our lives together. The upper portion of the sweater has several patterns running vertically:

  • Marriage Lines-indicating our nearly 29 years of marriage.
  • Tree of Life-representing our Christian faith and eternal life in heaven.
  • Five Stranded Braid-signifying the strong family bond we share with our three children.
There is much left to knit-but I hope to have all but the sleeves done before Christmas morning. 
For more reading/knitting stories, visit Yarn Along.

Gansey in Progress

Monday, December 15, 2014

Gotland Ram Seen Running Down Main Street!

Friday morning, I received a phone call from Ron, our livestock transporter. He had spent the past three weeks in intimate quarters with our new flock of Gotland sheep, as he meandered across the United States with them in his livestock trailer. He was calling to say he was sitting in the village only 6 miles away from our farm. We had purchased 3 ewes and two rams from a farm in Oregon, and Ron's job was to see to their safe arrival to Grand View Farm.  Ron uses an email group to communicate with all of his clients along his route, so I knew ahead of time that he would most likely arrive before the weekend.

Unable to sleep Thursday night, the excitement of finally meeting my new sheep kept me wide-eyed all night. Ron's call came around 8:00 am. We decided it best for my husband to meet him in the village and escort him and his trailer up to the farm. At 9:00 am my husband returned...without Ron. He could not get his van and trailer up the first steep incline out of town-we would have to use our farm truck to shuttle the sheep from the village up to our farm. With the week's storm, we had to dig the truck out of a snowbank. 

Email to group: "Ron is at Washington, VT. Everything is white and temps about 30 degrees, so very slick. He couldn't get up the mountain and had to back down a quarter mile on ice. Now they are using a pickup to shuttle the sheep to their new home. As soon as that is done, he heads across the mountains to pick up the mini horses."

Neighbor and husband unload the first two Gotlands
Though most Vermonters tend to be self sufficient souls, needing little and asking for nothing, I am not originally from the north, so I feel justified in calling on neighbors for help.  I felt we may want an extra set of hands for the transfer, and so I called a neighbor up the road to come along with us. We had two separate groups to bring up to the farm, a group of two and then a group of three. 

We brought the group of two up first without a single problem. We easily loaded them into the back of the truck, drove them the six miles up the mountain to the farm, and then walked them from the truck to the barn-easy. We told the neighbor that we really did not need him as we thought and offered to take him home. I think he was having too much fun though, and he insisted on seeing the job through until all sheep were in the barn. We drove back to town to pick up the last three sheep.

First group transferred without a hitch.
All went well, until the ram, still in the trailer, saw daylight and a small escape route! Evert, our Gotland ram, took off, running down Main Street of the village!  Along with our neighbor, my husband and I set off in pursuit of our sheep, chasing him while the little village went about its business. We ran behind the white steeple church, behind the parsonage and post office, and then back towards Main Street,  into the parking lot of the Town Hall.  We had the town pastor, the wife of the general store manager, and the town clerk involved before it was all over.

Can you see the escaping ram?

We finally cornered the ram on the porch of the Town Hall (the white building in front of the white van). The town clerk and I blocked him at one end of the porch and our neighbor blocked the other end. With a diving leap, our neighbor pinned him against the wall! He kept saying, "did you see that? I caught him! Did you see that?!" As my husband and I walked the ram back to the trailer, my husband asked the town clerk to please not write this up in her annual town report for all to read on Town Meeting Day. 

While we drove the sheep up to the farm, Ron posted this message on the email group:  "I got the sheep delivered via pick up shuttle up the mtn including an escape by one of the rams - visualize a Gotland ram running down Main Street in a small NewEngland town  with three people chasing after, and you have the picture! They finally caught him on the  patio of city hall and brought him back to the pick up for the last part of his journey from OR to VT.

After that little glitch, we loaded the ewes on first, and then the ram. He must have decided that it was easier to ride in the truck than to run alongside all the way up the mountain to our farm. The whole way up to the farm, our neighbor talked about what a great time he had. We all felt unified that morning-after all,  isn't that what bonds us one to another-lending a hand and conquering what seems impossible? We laughed about the good stories we would have to tell in years to come.

Home at last!

I posted a message to the email group so Ron would know the sheep were safe and sound: "Woo Hoo!! We have our sheep in the barn! Ron is such a good sport! Thank you Ron again for your service. You're awesome!" 

Ron's response-"It was a pleasure watching all you young agile people chase the ram down Main Street of Washington, VT-one of the more exciting events in my animal transport career!"

All is calm in the barn, and we are getting to know each other. Our neighbor came down Saturday morning and asked if things had quieted down a little since Friday. Grinning from ear to ear, I knew he wanted to remind us that it was HE who caught the ram in the end. (Many thanks to Jim!)

Getting to know one another ...

and learn who their new shepherd is.

Wouldn't you like to welcome our new sheep to our farm?!! Everyone leaving a warm welcome comment will be entered into a drawing to win one of our "Gotta Love Gotlands" cotton tote bags. Drawing will be held on Saturday, Dec. 21 via Random Picker. Be sure to leave a way for me to contact you in your comment.

Congratulations to RMK-the winner of our Gotta Love Gotland tote bag!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Kai, the Border Collie, Cleans Up After the Snow Storm

This morning, Kai and I decided to forgo our ritual morning walk in the woods. With heavy snow, and fallen tree branches from the nor'easter, I knew it would be tough going along our forest path. So instead, we walked up the road. Kai enjoyed helping the road crews clean up the fallen tree branches as we went.

First we walked UP the road......

Walking UP the road.

...and then we walked DOWN the road.

Kai found some fallen branches.

Kai helps clear the road.

The longer the stick, the better.

Distracted by yet another stick.
Such a good border collie. Read more about Vermont's Nor'easter.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Vermont's Nor'easter

Nor'easter-a New England storm blowing from the northeast.....

When the weather announcer uses the term "nor'easter,"  we know a significant storm is on the horizon. This week's storm has brought heavy wet snow to our area for several days in a row. The day before the storm, the sky was a brilliant blue, the sun cast little diamonds on the snow, and a calm settled over the farm.

Day before the storm.
 The next morning, a fine glaze of ice covered the stone steps and a fine mist steadily turned to snow throughout the day. Snow piled up, inch by inch, on every limb and lamp post. By sunset, the farm lay covered in white-only a soft yellow glow from the farmhouse window could be seen through the white haze.

Stormy sunset 

The next day, trees lay heavy with snow and ice. Branches bowed to the ground, some snapping under the weight. The lights flickered all day, going out entirely for several hours, leaving thousands of Vermont homes without power.

Snow upon snow upon snow.

By the second morning, the snow filled every nook and cranny of our farm. Our snowplow, and the shepherd's husband, worked overtime to keep the drive clear. The sheep, being hardy Vermonters themselves, still preferred to dine at their outside feeder, taking in the beauty of the day.

Sheep dine outside.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Knitting a Gansey-Yarn Along

I am the kind of person that does not buy yarn, or fabric, unless I have an imminent purpose for it. I do one project at a time-start to finish. You will not find baskets sitting around my house with half finished knitting projects. That's just me, a beginning to end kind of person.

Marking off each row as I knit.
Do you remember my gansey knitting project from last winter-that I shared with the Yarn Along group? Well, that project broke that rule. I became so bogged down by the process of planning the sweater, that I became paralyzed. I did cast on, and I did knit about 7 inches, then tore back about 4 inches, but that is as far as it got. With Christmas around the corner, and needing a gift for a certain person in the house, I opened that project bag again.

Five Strand Cable and Tree of Life
I pulled out all my books (see resource list at end of post) and read through the chapters again on percentages, gussets, and shoulder straps. I felt that knot building up in my stomach again. How would I ever figure it all out? I finally decided to just start knitting and worry about each part as I came to it. At 15 minutes per round, the knitting progresses slowly, but the fruits of my labor are prevailing. Today, I reached the point where I needed to begin doing the underarm gussets, so I read up on that chapter, drew out my gusset design, and continued knitting.

With a goal of having the body of the sweater completed and under the Christmas tree, I have to knit, what seems to me, all day! At least I have a cozy foot warmer while I work!

Knitting makes Kai sleepy!
I would love to hear how others keep track of their knitting when they are working on a sweater with lots of different patterns going on at the same time. I have struggled some with this. I have ended up copying the diagrams and taping them into a book. I highlight each row as I knit. Does anyone have a more efficient system? I would love to hear!

Knitting a Gansey Resources:
Knitting in the Old Way
Knitting Ganseys
Blog Posts
Yarn Along: Irish Fishermen, Ganseys, and Shepherds
Yarn Along: Gansey Progress-From Sheep to Gansey

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Journey of the Gotlands-Part 2

A modern day Noah's Ark
I guess it is sort of like a modern day Noah's Ark," a friend said after I explained how my new flock of Gotland sheep were getting from Oregon to Vermont. I sat and pondered the picture this brought to mind of my sheep riding in the livestock trailer as if in Noah's Ark, surrounded by other animals, goats, dogs, and cows. "Yes," I finally replied, "I suppose it is."

Some people think that our transporter, Ron, simply drove to Oregon to pick up the sheep, and is now driving directly east, to our farm in Vermont. Actually, Ron combines deliveries and meanders his way across the U.S. picking up animals, loading them into pens on his trailer, and then driving them to their new home. So far, on this trip, he has had sheep, goats, dogs, and I believe a miniature donkey along for the ride. By sharing the trailer with several farms, it makes the trip affordable for all.

Part II, of the Journey of the Gotlands, began a few days ago. Ron took about 10 days, making his way up the west coast to the farm in Oregon where our sheep lived, and then making a sweeping tour of the midwest before landing back at his home base in Texas. He needed to do some minor repairs and pick up more riders before heading out again towards New England. So far, our sheep have traveled through about 12 different states. I am hoping that they will arrive to Vermont in about a week or 10 days. When they arrive, you will most likely hear me squeal with delight!

Follow along on this last leg of the journey and see all the places they stop. I will update the map daily.
December 7, 2014-Corning, Arkansas
December 8, 2015-Picking up a puppy near Indianapolis, IN-then on to PA.
December 10, 2014-Waterbury, CT-So close I think I can hear them baaing!
December 12, 2014-The Gotlands have arrived!!! VT Grand View Farm!

If you see the sheep traveling in your area of the United States, be sure to look for a camper van, pulling a long livestock trailer behind! There just might be some Gotland sheep on that trailer!

The Journey of the Gotlands Part I
Road Trip!