Friday, October 31, 2014

The Woodsman and the Shepherd

An old stone wall marks the boundaries of the overgrown pasture.
We meet at the height of his land where the woods give way to an old pasture, he, the woodsman, and I, the shepherd. An old stone wall remembers when that pasture lay green with grass. I have my sheep dog by my side, full of exuberance, and he stands alone in flannel shirt. We talk about busy summers, and time slipped by. I ask if he found the jar of wild raspberry jelly I left on his tractor seat, and he asks if our college bound daughters have headed back to school.

Saplings and brambles fill the field.
We stand and gaze upon the beauty of the distant mountains on the other side of the field. The field now full of saplings and  brambles. He tells me to take it all in, to feast upon the view, for one day, that view will be hidden. He says in another 10 years all those sticks of trees will be so tall that you will not be able to see the sunset behind the mountains. The woodsman stands looking out over his land, dreaming of that day when the sugar maples have grown to full stature. He dreams of sugar taps and steam from his evaporator. He hears his chain saw, and calculates how many cords of wood those trees will provide.
Young sugar maple

I, the shepherd, stand looking out over the woodsman's overgrown field. I marvel at why anyone would want to cover up the splendor and majesty of layers upon layers of mountains. I dream of a small herd of goats clearing that land so my sheep can graze there. I remember the field full of wild flowers all summer and the scent of warm raspberries. I remember middle daughter with camera in hand, taking hundreds of pictures of that pasture and dreaming of building herself a little house, right there in the middle of the brambles.

The woodsman's firewood
For a few moments, we both stare in silence. The woodsman with his thoughts, and I, the shepherd, with my own. Then our eyes meet again in a knowing sort of way. He says he has not forgotten about his one acre open field that lines the lower part of my 2 acre field. He says we will meet one day soon, to talk, and to trade acre for acre....the woodsman's little field, for the shepherd's towering red pines. No words need to speak what our hearts know, his love is in the woods, and mine is with my sheep. We walk our separate ways, he, the woodsman, goes back to his forest and stacks of split firewood, and I the shepherd make my way back to where the woods open up to my field and my sheep.

Chloe watches as we make our way out of the woods.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Settling In with Gotlands

Our reassuring voices did not seem to make much difference as we loaded our first two Gotland ewe lambs into the back of our van.  As we drove down the long driveway, the lambs stood at the back window of the van looking out as if to say goodbye to their home and family. They had a 7 hour ride to Vermont ahead of them. 

Saying Good-Bye

Last spring, a friend told me about a book by Sue Blacker called Pure Wool. Her book features different sheep breeds and pure breed yarns which she produces at her mill in England. Within days, the book sat on my coffee table. I poured through the pages at night with my cup of tea, intrigued by the various breeds she describes. Soon the book had sticky notes through out marking the different breeds that I wanted to further research.

The two ewes settled down in the hay bed we had made in the back of the van as we headed north on the interstate. They did not get up until we stopped at a rest stop where they stood to look out the windows. I assured them that this was not their new home, and that we would be on our way again soon.

The Gotland breed caught my eye. Their clean black faces peer out from silky, lustrous gray curls. Originally from an island on the Baltic Sea off the coast of Sweden, these sheep are known for their hardiness, strong mothering characteristics, and their friendly personalities. Gotland lambs are described as vigorous and active. Slightly smaller than my Romney sheep, ewes weigh between 120-150 and rams weigh 160-190 pounds.

Enjoying Vermont Grass
Our two new Gotland ewes would join our flock of Romney sheep. I had spent the summer reducing my Romney flock, selling our lambs and some of our quality breeding ewes so that I could make room for the Gotland sheep. We will run both breeds in our flock. I kept some of my most reliable, calm, and stable Romney ewes in hopes they will help the Gotland lambs learn the routines here on our farm.

After some research, I learned that in 2003, Gotland semen had been imported into the United States. Foundation ewes were selected and artificially inseminated, beginning the process of building the Gotland breed in the U.S. I located several breeders on the east coast as well as the west coast. With phone calls to other farms raising Gotland sheep, I found other shepherds excited about the breed and confirming all that I had read about them.

After eight hours of driving, we arrived back in Vermont with our first two Gotland sheep, one 90% Gotland, and the other 81%. They would spend the first few weeks on our farm in quarantine away from the Romney sheep.

The decision was made, I would add Gotland sheep to our hillside Vermont farm. I would sell some of our Romney sheep to allow me to purchase Gotland ewes and a ram. Grand View Farm would be the first farm in Vermont to own Gotlands. The summer would be spent reducing our Romney flock, making room for a few Gotland sheep. 

I found downsizing my flock and bringing in new sheep challenging. It required taking a hard look at my flock and making difficult decisions. I found the process exhausting and a bit stressful. Purchasing new sheep has its own set of challenges as well, but most of the hard work is done now and the excitement builds as we bring our new lambs home. In another 2 weeks, all our new sheep will have arrived, and we can begin the process of settling in.

Our 90% Gotland Ewe Lamb

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival

Take a 10x10 foot space........

Add a few props....

And fill it with yarn!

That, my friend, is how it all begins at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival. Friday afternoon, vendors and shepherds arrive to the fair grounds in campers, vans, trucks, trailers, little houses (yes, one vendor pulls a little house), and cars. They spend the next few hours, turning their little piece of cement floor into mini stores offering amazing wool and fiber products. Much laughter can be heard as vendors greet each other, share stories, and help one another. Over in the pole barn, you can hear baaing from the sheep, maaing from the goats, and humming from the camelids, as they begin to settle in.
Our new Gotland ewes.

By 7:00pm all is quiet, lights are turned out, and doors locked until gates open at 10:00am on Saturday. Despite the rain today, the parking lot was full with people wanting to meet the farmers, feel the fiber growing on the animals, and fill their shopping bags with home grown yarn and roving. VT Grand View Farm would like to say "thank you" to everyone who came out to meet us and see our two new Gotland ewes!

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Vermont's Change of Season

In Vermont, change marks the beginning of each new season-change in weather, change in color, and change in activity.

The beginning of winter brings smoke curling out of chimney tops, frost on old farmhouse windows, and mittens, boots, and woolen hats piled by the front door. Snow shoe trails wind up the steep field into the trees.

Steam billowing from sugar houses and smoke curling from stove pipes usher in spring as maple sugar makers scramble to fill their evaporators with sap. Green bursts forth filling trees and pastures that have laid gray and brown for 7 months. The faint sounds of lambs baaing come from the barn as new moms deliver their young.

Mud Season
Mud season sneaks its way in between spring and summer, with muddy roads and ruts. Trucks sunk up to axles and muddy boots announce winter's thaw.

Summer arrives sometime after July 4 with parades, roasted marshmallows, and smoke curling from outdoor ovens and backyard bonfires. Farmer markets burst with produce, red, yellow, orange, and green. Cows, sheep, and goats dot the countryside as they graze in the fields.

Autumn speaks color.....

The ridge across the road from our farm bursts forth with color.
Autumn sneaks in when you least expect it with an early frost, apples hanging from trees, morning mist in the valleys, and mounds of tomatoes on the counter to be processed. Leaf peepers fill the roads, stopping traffic to take pictures of the stunning foliage, and locals scurry to put gardens to bed and fill their wood boxes for the winter. There's a nip in the air, getting puppies and sheep excited. Barn kitties curl in their woolen bed, and smoke rises from chimney tops.


Distant field surrounded by autumn!

Morning mist over the mountain gives way to afternoon haze

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Signs of Autumn in Vermont

Three things tell me that autumn is upon us-

Morning mist.
Morning Mist
Sunlight through the trees.

Morning Sun Streams Through the Trees

Fallen red leaves. 

A Red Maple Leaf

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Woods Tell the Story

My spot.
This morning I ventured off the trail on my morning walk with Kai through the woods. I went in search of my favorite spot in our woods, the place where I will build a small studio one day with a sleeping loft. A moss covered stone wall marks the spot with old maples and tall pines surrounding it. 

Kai surveys the woods.
The stone wall tells of days from long ago, when cows grazed there, and when farmer's worn hands laid stones to separate their land from their neighbor's land. Over time, the cows left the farm and the forest began to creep in, covering the boundaries so distinctly laid by the stones. Kai explored while I stood and pondered the lives of those who touched each rock as they placed it on the wall.

Red blazes mark the property line.

We continued our walk to the high point of the land where the forest gives way to a neighbor's large field. The freshly mown field against the orange and red leaves behind it, tell of seasons changing. Kai and I stop to play in the field and warm ourselves in the morning sun. As we wind our way back to the trail, we pass red blazes and an iron rod, which mark the corner of the neighbor's property. Today, toppling stone walls no longer mark property lines, but rather mark a time in history. They tell a story of the land and the people who used to work and live off the land. I wonder what sign we will leave in the woods for future generations. How will they see the toil of our hands and the passions of our hearts? Kai and I make our way back to the house.

Kai and I play in the field.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Keep In Step

Shepherd to a growing flock of sheep and an extremely energetic border collie puppy, mother to a homeschooled 17 year old in pursuit of college life and two college daughters waiting for a letter from home, wife to a busy engineer, farmer to an old historic homestead with rambling house, unkempt gardens, and old barn, innkeeper to a small bed and breakfast inviting families and couples to enjoy rural living, and manager of a home-based business with one employee, juggling marketing book keeping, social networking, and budgeting.
That's me, with more jobs than any one person can keep up with. 

So it is not surprising that I took 10 days off from posting to our farm facebook page and an entire month off from posting to our farm journal. It is no wonder that I am chronically late when it comes to mailing birthday gifts, and paying bills. It is no wonder that my kitchen has a tub with about 50 pounds of tomatoes in it waiting to be turned into sauce for the winter. It is no wonder that my laundry basket over flows, and clutter mounts. 

The fullness of life surrounds me. I feel its pulse beating and I can not escape it. I try to count each beat as a blessing. I just ask that you have patience with me. I promise that I really do think of you though your letters, notes, and calls do not arrive on time, I really will have dinner on the table, I really will find the surface of the dining room table, and the potatoes will get dug and the weeds won't close in around us. And when you see me behind my knitting needles or with hand-dyed yarn and silk in my hands, I am not being neglectful of all that needs to be done....I am replenishing my soul so I can keep in step.