The other loss was our dear old guard dog, Nellie, who died just a few days before Christmas. This blog is a tribute to her.
RIP Nellie. We will remember you always.
Happy New Year to all of our readers! We hope that you all had a warm and happy holiday season. Bill and I had our ups and downs for a variety of reasons. I came down with a terrible flu, and on top of that we lost a couple of our beloved animals in the days just before Christmas. Our oldest ewe, Vinnie, died 11 days before Christmas. She was retired from lambing, but had such a personality (and nice fiber!) that we kept her around just because we liked her so much. We don’t know exactly how old she was, but she lived a long and comfortable life. She just stopped eating, and would not come into the barn with the other sheep. She became weaker and weaker, and finally laid down one night and couldn’t get up. It was hard, but Bill swiftly put her down, painlessly.
The other loss was our dear old guard dog, Nellie, who died just a few days before Christmas. This blog is a tribute to her.
Nellie probably never knew how lucky she was. In the Spring of 2007 Bill traveled to the Oregon border to pick up a dog from a breeder he had found in a magazine. He was expecting to pick up one male dog and be on his way, but when he arrived, there were two puppies. One was the dog who he named Casimiro, and the other was a small little female. Bill asked about her and the breeder said that she was a runt and deformed so he would probably just “get rid of her”. Bill couldn’t bear the thought, so he brought her home, cleaned her up and nursed her back to health. She was skinny and her hind end was so weak that she couldn’t walk. The two pups were inseparable, and little Nellie gradually gained strength and started walking. She grew a little, although she was only about half the size of a normal dog of her breed. She didn’t let her small stature deter her from her duties, though. She was always very suspicious of people – it took her almost a year to trust me enough to let me pet her – but her guarding instinct was fully intact. She was just over a year old when I met her, and shortly after that I happened to be there the first time she saw a lamb being born. Bill asked me to pay close attention, because he did not know how the dogs would react. I hung around in the pasture that day, and pretty soon a ewe went into labor and had a lamb. Nellie was nearby, watching, and even though she had never seen this before, she came over and tried to protect the lamb from it’s own mother! I watched for a while, and the ewe would not be deterred. They went around and around, and after about a half hour, they got it sorted out. The ewe bonded with her lamb, with Nellie sitting up on the hill watching them closely. She was a quick learner, and after that her behavior was to position herself near a ewe who was lambing and then let them bond while she chased away any of the other curious sheep who would come over to see what was going on.
She was very attentive to the entire flock, but always paid special attention to the lambs when they were young. I recall one time when we had a small group of “bummer” lambs (ones whose mothers can’t or won’t nurse them), in which case I bottle feed them when they are small. I was in the pasture about 100 feet away from the fence and had just finished feeding. Nellie was up on the hill behind me. Just then a big truck drove up to the barn and couple of guys got out. It was the electrical PUD crew who were doing routine inspections of their power poles, one of which was near our barn. Casimiro raced to the fence and started barking like crazy, so I got up and walked down to talk to the crew. I noticed that as soon as I left the lambs, Nellie quietly got up and came and sat right next to them. She did not bark, or get excited, but she was on alert and never took her eyes off the strangers until they were gone.
Nellie was devoted to her flock, and to us, right up until the very end. In early December, she lost her appetite and stopped eating. I took her to the vet, and he said that she was anemic and that most likely her body had stopped making red blood cells. Given her advanced age, there was no treatment that would accomplish anything, so we made the decision to take her home and let her spend her last few days in the barn. We set up a lambing pen with a nice straw bed and a heat lamp, and gave her water. She was in full view of the sheep and other dogs, and was comfortable and happy to see us when we would visit several times a day. She held on for a couple of weeks, which was extraordinary. I had to go to Seattle the week before Christmas, and I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be there when I got back. I visited her one last time and said my goodbye. When Bill got home that night, he went in and spent some time with her, then went out to do some snowblowing. When he got back about an hour later, she was nowhere to be found. He could see that she had pushed through the gate on the pen. It was pitch black, and snowing, but he put his head lamp on and searched the pasture until he found her. She had gone up to her favorite spot, just past the willow tree, and laid down and died.
RIP Nellie. We will remember you always.
Dear readers- My apologies for being so delinquent in my blog updates. It was a jam packed summer, and apparently Fall has gone by in the blink of an eye as Winter is now descending on us in the form of snow! I will try to summarize the past 6 months with some photos and descriptions of the highlights.
When you last heard from me I was on my way to pick up our new ram, George. He has turned out to be a handsome fellow, and has a nice personality. He gets along with Manny and Chip, with whom he spent the summer. They are all good pals. George and Manny are with their ewes now, and we are hoping that their romances will result in lots of lambs next April.
After Jackson left, he sent me some of his reflections on his time here. I thought I would share them with you:
I worked and lived part-time at the lamb ranch from March to August of 2016. I came to the
ranch with an inkling that I would enjoy the quality of life but also with an ambition to learn as
much as I could about ranching.
“Sheep are what sheep eat.”
I’ve heard that expert fly anglers are entomologists knowledgeable about the life cycles of the
insects that feed the fish. During my time at McFarland Creek Lamb Ranch, I learned that the sheep rancher is similarly concerned with plants. The rancher takes custody of not only animals, but also of pastures. Potentially, pastures require more time and effort to maintain than the animals
I heard Katie say a couple of times that day-to-day work on the ranch is “not as glamorous as
people like to believe it is.” That struck me as the realization that I was rarely asked to do work
that directly involved the livestock. The majority of my time was spent weeding--trying to prevent
noxious weeds from crowding the pastures. I felt like an anonymous neighbor to the flock. We
saw each other often and I had no reason to approach them other than to shoo them away
when they lay across an irrigation line. Or dissuade them from mustering at a gate as I passed
in or out. I thought of myself as their servant, busying myself with tidying their pastures.
I found that during the spring and summer months, the great majority of my tasks were related
directly to plants and indirectly to preserving the wellbeing of the animals. I’d say the same of
what I observed Katie and Bill doing around the ranch. These tasks revolved around cultivating
and maintaining the sheep pastures. Weeding, mowing, and moving irrigation lines.
I also noticed that Bill and Katie discussed their prospective choices of hay as they would have
discussed different choices of salad at a restaurant--no less discerning than if they had been
required to eat the hay themselves. They discussed which varieties of hay were available,
where it was grown and who grew it, whether it had a surfeit of stems or blooms, which cutting
produced it (the first cutting is generally less desirable), and at what price it was being sold.
They reserved their right to be picky, because they knew that their decision would affect the
quality of the meat that they produced.
Through mainly my efforts, the “upper pasture”--an area claimed as pasture during fire
recovery--was this year cleared of the vast majority of the flowering generation of mullein
(Verbascum thapsus). I wrote this to mark the virtual completion of my task:
The mullein of McFarland Creek lamb ranch were equal in grandeur to the California redwoods.
Towering, bolting for the sky, innumerable. I saw them like the early loggers might have seen
the redwood forests. It was my duty to eliminate them and I very quickly tired of the tedium,
appearing after days of toil to have made a minute difference. Without end in sight, I became
numb to the destruction I caused, disturbing solitary insects that had alighted on the furry leaves
of the mullein. I churned the soil unearthing pupae and the nests of bumble bees and ants.
Yesterday, the tables turned distinctly. Then the end was suddenly in sight. Then the task was
finished abruptly before I knew what to do with myself next. Like a shark circling prey I whittled
away at the fringes of the last patch of these giants. Each shovel stroke lost its effort. For the
last time I straightened my back, tipped back my hat, and scanned the pasture with squinted
Nowhere left to go and no weed left to to conquer. A feeling of loneliness and regret. Lonely to
be the last one standing. A feeling of silly destruction. I am the surprised, defeated victor.
Apprehensive about the future. Who am I now that I have no more mullein to fell?
Herding sheep, I found, relied on intuition that I developed as a middle schooler. I never
imagined that basketball practice brought me closer to being a good sheep herder. I found that it
helped to take a wide a stance and to keep all sheep within my field of view. While directing the
herd I continually revised my own position, plotting the trajectory of each straggler and the path
that I might take to block it from dashing off in the wrong direction. So at a fairly relaxed pace, I
found that I could encourage the sheep to go where I wanted them to go. They are timid
creatures, mentally susceptible to my calculating moves.
After he left us, Jackson worked in one of the more remote National Parks (California's Channel Islands) where he assisted with managing and researching the fox population. We wish him all the best in his future adventures.
We had a couple of moose visit us this summer, which is not unheard of, but still rather rare. They usually prefer to hang out further up the road at our neighbors' place, where there are some swampy ponds, which sare their favorite habitat. In July, I saw a cow moose walk through our yard, cross the county road, and wander down into our lower pasture. In September, we did not see the moose itself, but we sure saw the aftermath! The dogs had been barking during the night, and even though Bill got up and looked with a flashlight, he didn’t see anything so went back to sleep. The next morning we found the gate near the barn smashed and broken, and saw a big hoof print in the dirt. Definitely a moose. Fortunately, we were able to patch up the gate without too much trouble.
The garden was bountiful this year, and I tried to put up as much as possible. It really cut into my wool processing, but I did manage to get some dyeing done, which was very gratifying. Our local yarn shop, Twisted Knitters, is selling almost everything I can produce!
Our biggest project this year is building a new shop to replace the one that burned in the fire two years ago. We went all out and decided to incorporate all the features that we wanted: covered storage and parking; enclosed, heated garage; workshop area; bathroom; office space; fiber workshop space; and a place for our walk-in cooler. The project started with bringing in fill dirt to build up the pad to a level that will allow the runoff to drain away. We hired our neighbor to do the foundation, framing and sheathing, and he got it all buttoned up before winter. Now we are doing the rest mostly ourselves. We got the septic tank in and covered up just before the ground froze, and are now working on electrical wiring. Hopefully we can get that inspected in a week or two, and then we can get some insulation in. We have the wood stove, so it will make it cozy for the finish work during the winter.
Callie and Alfred are doing great. They play hard and are loving the snow. Alfred is so big now- we are guessing at least 130 lbs, maybe more. He has a sweet personality, and is very attentive to his guard duties. Last week I heard an eerie sound- something between a scream and a screech. I had no idea what it was, but Callie went tearing over to the fence line and barked ferociously for quite a while. Alfred stayed with the sheep. The next day I found some large cougar tracks in the snow, and I’m pretty sure that’s what I heard. Haven’t seen or heard any sign of it since. Our old dog Nellie is slowing down. She’s 10 years old now, and we are keeping her comfortable and providing a place out of the cold where she can live out her last days.
One of my resolutions for the New Year is to do better at updating the blog. We wish you all a happy holiday season, and stay tuned for more frequent updates in the New Year.
Springtime at the Lamb Ranch has been very busy and very rewarding. It was still winter the last time I posted, and now snow is a distant memory. I got an early start (for me) on getting the greenhouse up and starting some seeds. Our helper, Jackson arrived in late March, and we put him to work right away. He got a lesson in driving the tractor, and learned about the irrigation system. We put him to work attacking weeds, which are plentiful in certain parts of the pasture. Since we don’t use herbicides, it’s a big job to dig up each one by hand, but in the end it’ s very effective. The areas that we have done over the past few years have almost no weeds any more. The remaining section is mostly mullein, which is easy to dig out, so by next Spring our weed work will be minimal.
What a difference a year makes in the fire recovery! Last year (first Spring after the fire) the hillside among the burned trees was mostly brown, and although there were delicious morel mushrooms to be found, it wasn’t all that nice to look at. This year (second year after the fire), the entire hillside exploded in yellow balsamroot, which was impressive, but then we had an unexpected bonus of a lupine bloom. It went from yellow to purple. Big swaths of hillside just covered with brilliant color. And now instead of dull brown below the trees, it’s a carpet of green. Even though we miss our trees, we are really enjoying watching the transformation each year as the land recovers.
There was above average snow this winter, and everyone here was hopeful that would mean more water soaking into the ground and less fire danger. But the Springtime temperatures were above average, and it’s melting off very fast. All the streams and rivers started running high much earlier than usual. Our little creek that runs through the front yard started rising in mid-April. By early May it had come up onto the grass and we had to dig out the spillway and let it go over the driveway. It’s a nice feature that is leftover from the days when this property was a power generation plant, and it allows us to control the flooding really well. It peaked about a week ago and is slowly going back down now.
Our regular shearer, Martin, showed up right on schedule- first weekend in April- and got all 40 of our sheep sheared in just a few hours. He is such a pleasure to work with and we are grateful to have him. He had just returned from a trip to Australia where he got to shear with some world famous shearers. This year I had every fleece micron tested and was pleased to find that many of our yearlings had readings that were in the 26-29 range. There were three Romney/Cormo cross fleeces that were 24-26. I can hardly wait to wash them and see what they are like once they are spun.
Shortly after shearing comes lambing, which started on April 14th. It was another very successful year. All the ewes lambed in a 10 day period, and we ended up with 23 little rascals. All healthy, with all good mothers. It’s the second year in a row with no bummers (meaning I don’t have to bottle feed any of them). There were only two singles out of the bunch, and the grand finale was a set of really nice triplets out of our veteran ewe, Pearl. She waited until the very end, and they were all nice big lambs. She had only had singles up to this point, so I was watching her carefully to make sure she would take all of them and be able to nurse that many. She proved to be just a wonderful mother. She somehow manages to keep track of all three, and they hang out together like a little tribe. Her bag is huge, and they are all getting plenty to eat. All of the lambs this year are from Manny, our Cormo ram, so next shearing should result in plenty of very nice fleeces.
The lambs were so cute this year that I couldn't resist posting a video of them racing around while their mothers were eating. I have more video on the Facebook page, too.
Once all the lambs were on the ground we were able to turn out attention to other things. The garden got planted, and we started getting the site ready for our new shop. We had to have a lot of fill dirt brought in to level it up, and it looks great. It’s going to be a bigger structure that the one that burned, and will include an enclosed garage, a workshop for tools and repairs, a small office space, a walk-in cooler for hanging meat, and an upstairs that will be used as a fiber art studio. We don’t expect to get it done completely this year but are hoping to have it framed up with siding and roof before winter. We will finish out the interior spaces as time and money allow. The main thing is that we will have covered space for our woodpile and other items that have been spending the past two winters outside under blue tarps.
Business has been good. On the meat side, we are almost sold out of all the available lamb for this Spring. We only have one left, and have started a waiting list for the Fall. Yarn sales have picked up considerably, too. Our local yarn shop, Twisted Knitters in Twisp, has moved to a storefront on Main Street, which seems to have been a good move. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but business is booming. I encourage any of my blog readers who are in Twisp to visit this delightful yarn shop. It's right across from the bakery, so you can indulge all of your appetites.
I am headed to the West side tomorrow to do meat delivery and pick up a new ram. He is a purebred Romney from The Pines Farm in Maple Valley. They sent me a picture of him and he is a very handsome fellow. I’ll be posting photos of him in the next installment, so stay tuned!
Spring is on the way, and boy, we can’t wait. We’ve had some teaser days with sunshine and warm temperatures, but then the clouds come, and more snow which means another round of mud before things dry out. The other day we had a heavy wet snow fall during the night and went out to find a big limb on the willow tree had broken off. The tree suffered a lot of damage during the fire, and we are not sure if it will survive.
The big news around here is that our new Maremma puppy, Alfred, arrived late February. I went to the farm where he was born and met the breeder along with his mother, and a few siblings that were still there. He is just a magnificent little dog. So calm, curious, smart, and huge. He just had his checkup at the vet yesterday and weighed in at 41.5 lbs. And he’s only 3 months old! Our oldest dog, Nellie, is not too interested in him, but that is her style. She takes a long time to warm up to new things, but she is already showing signs of coming around. Callie, on the other hand, was immediately attracted to him. I think she must have a strong natural mothering, or at least guarding instinct, because she has definitely taken charge of watching out for him. She doesn’t let him out of her sight, and is right there if anything seems awry. If he whines, she runs over to see what’s wrong. And the other day a ewe gave him a little head butt and it startled him so he squealed. Callie was watching and she leapt in between them and gave that old ewe the stink-eye. She has really taken the lead and will be an excellent teacher and playmate for Alfred.
I’ve been working hard at getting as much wool washed and dyed as I can, and although it’s going slowly, I’m making steady progress and coming out with some very nice colors. I just got another batch back from Spinderella’s this week, and sent another one off. I tried something new this time- I had a tender fleece (one with weak fibers that won’t work for spinning), so I had them felt it for me. It turned out beautiful! I’m going to sew a vest out of it, and also experiment with making some tea cozies. I’ll embellish them with needle felting using some of the dyed wool that I have laying around.
I don’t know when I’ll have the time, as our project list is growing daily. Next weekend our helper, Jackson, is arriving from California to spend the summer working with us. He will spend part of the week working for Bill in the surveying business, and part on the ranch. We are both very excited to have him here. The next blog update will have more about him. We are also planning our new shop building, and should start construction later this Spring. It will be such a relief to have a place to store things under cover instead of under blue tarps covered with snow all winter.
We’ll be shearing on April 1st, followed by lambing starting April 15th, so the busy season is almost upon us. Our ewes are starting to look very big, so we are expecting the usual healthy lamb crop, with plenty of twins. We will have 5 first time mothers this year, so we're crossing our fingers that they are all up to the job. The rest of the yearlings did really well this winter- no illnesses, all looking good. We’ll be butchering after they’ve been on grass for a month or so.
Stay tuned for news and updates on all these things and more in the next installment!
This blog installment is dedicated to our beloved guard dog, Cas, who passed away last week. His full name was Casimiro, which is Italian and means “The Great Defender”, which he certainly was.
Bill got Cas and his sister, Nellie, in November of 2006. They were litter mates, and inseparable right from the beginning. They were a formidable team and worked together to protect their flock through thick and thin. Many a time we witnessed them go to work when coyotes and other predators were lurking about. Cas did not like anything near his sheep, even birds. If a hawk, eagle or raven flew over, he would run around the pasture barking like crazy. Any sound or scent that he detected outside the pasture was investigated. Usually it elicited a warning bark, which would be enough, but if necessary he and Nellie would go into full defense mode. This usually entailed Nellie rounding up the sheep and getting them into a corner away from the threat where she would stand guard in front of them while Cas would go to the fence line and let the predator know that it would be a big mistake to come into his pasture. This was very effective, and truly impressive to watch.
Cas had a natural instinct for which animals needed the most protection. He was especially good with lambs. I remember one time when we had a few bummers (lambs whose mothers either couldn’t or wouldn’t nurse them). I was bottle feeding them in the pasture, and was getting ready to finish up and go do some other chore so I playfully told Cas, who was sitting on the hill behind me, that he needed to take extra special care of those lambs because they didn’t have mothers to look out for them. Just before I got up to go, a stray ewe wandered up and was approaching the lambs to check them out. Before I knew what was happening, Cas flew down the hill and head-butted that ewe clear out of the way! She looked totally bewildered and had no idea what had just happened.
He also took special care of the old ewes. We had a retiree, Licorice, who had been Bill’s niece’s 4H lamb. Licorice lived to a ripe old age, and in her later years she had arthritis and didn’t move very fast. In the summer we move the sheep to the upper pastures during the day, and bring them down at night. The rest of the flock would race up the hill to the fresh grass, while Licorice would make her way slowly up the hill and eventually catch up with them. Cas would usually hang back with her until she had re-joined the flock.
One thing we will never know is what happened during the Carlton Complex fire, when we left the dogs in charge of the flock. All we know for sure is that the new dog we had just acquired a few months before panicked and escaped, but Cas and Nellie stayed with the sheep while fire raged all around them. The fact that all were saved with nothing more than a few minor burns tells us that they probably worked as a team yet again to get the sheep into the center of the irrigated pasture, away from the flames that were burning at the fence line.
As fierce a defender as he was, Cas was also very playful and affectionate with us. He loved his daily belly rub and if I forgot to do it, he would put his paw on my leg and look at me while he rolled on his back with his legs in the air. When he was younger he loved to romp in the snow and slide down the hillside.
We didn’t know that he was ill until the very end. He had been slowing down a bit, which was to be expected with large dog of 9 years who has lived outdoors. But he was still playful, and would follow me up to the gate every day and wait for me to return from my chores. The week before last, he all of a sudden was not able to move one morning. The day before had been normal, and then the next morning he was paralyzed in his hind end. I took him to the vet immediately, but he could not find any obvious reason for it. I then took him to the WSU vet hospital, which is one of the best schools in the country, and they examined him and said that while they could not make a diagnosis without some very expensive testing, the bottom line was that he would never walk again. The most humane thing to do was to put him to sleep. So that is what we did, and I am so grateful to the kind people at WSU. They were very respectful and let me have some private time with him and be there when they did it. They then offered to do a necropsy as part of their training, and send us the results so we would at least know what happened. It turned out that he had very advanced cancer in most of his major organs. He had never let on that anything was wrong- just kept on doing his job until he literally could not walk. During the last few days we had him in a pen in the barn, and Nellie would not leave his side. She sat next to him day and night, and when he was gone, she sat there still for several days. We are so glad that we have Callie, the younger dog, whom Nellie has bonded with. Nellie is starting to sit with Callie now, and although I’m sure she misses her brother, is getting along OK.
There is some happy news on the horizon, too. We have been planning on getting one more dog to be a companion and partner to Callie, but had not made any efforts yet. When Cas became ill, I realized that we should probably get on a list for another Maremma puppy, hoping that we could get one later this year. I contacted the breeder who gave us Callie, and she called me immediately and said that she had just had a litter, and there was a beautiful little male pup available! So I sent her the deposit and will be picking him up later this month. We will always remember Cas and hold a special place for him in our hearts, but are looking forward to the next generation of loyal guardians. So, stay tuned- the next blog entry will be full of cute puppy pictures. You won’t want to miss it!
Greetings Lamb Ranch Friends! Christmas is behind us, and the new year is looming on the horizon. As usual, Fall was a very busy season for us, so I have not had time to catch up on the blog until now.
We are reflecting on our year, and find that we made a lot of progress. The major project was getting all of the fencing replaced, which was huge, and should last a lifetime. We hired it out, despite Bill’s reluctance to let anyone else do such an important task, but they did a great job. Every day I walk the fence line on my way to the irrigation box, and just gaze at the fence feeling so happy that we finally have a secure boundary, and dividing fences for pasture rotation. One day I was walking along and saw a big hole in the upper fence. What the …? At first I thought “what creature had the strength to punch through a brand new steel fence?” Then I realized that was crazy, and started looking around. This part of the fence is at the bottom of a steep hillside, and I figured that maybe a rock had rolled down and busted through. I looked around and saw lots of rocks just sitting there looking all innocent, not saying anything. It was clear that none of them were going to fess up, so I went into CSI mode and finally figured out who the culprit was. It was sitting right on top of the indentation on the ground where I had picked up the hose the day before. And there was a bunch of crushed green grass underneath it, whereas all the other rocks had just dirt under them. Aha! I gave this rock a life sentence of sitting in the same place forever. Bill patched up the fence the next weekend.
This year we had a nice pile of compost, so I had plenty to use on the garden. After I harvested everything, I put a thick layer on the beds, and then covered that with leaves. I managed to get some garlic in the ground this year so we should have a nice crop next summer. It was so gratifying to be able to get everything put to bed before the first cold snap.
Meanwhile, Bill has been busy putting up the firewood. He cut down all the dead trees around the barn area and split and stacked them under the sheltered area of the barn. It’s so much nicer than having them under a blue tarp in the driveway. We’re starting to feel almost civilized!
Now that we have our barn and fencing done, we are looking forward to next year when we will start rebuilding our shop. We have a dream of installing a micro-hydro power generation system as well, so we thought it would be a good idea to figure out what equipment would be required so that we could design the space for it in the shop building. We had a consultant visit us to look at our creek and go over the options, and found that we have plenty of flow and head to generate what we would use and then some. So, we made a space in the shop to accommodate some inverters, etc. So exciting to think that we could be a net zero operation someday!
Of course the holiday season is the big sale season. Our community is lucky to have several businesses that promote locally made products, so I have a place to sell all the hats that I knit during the year, along with the yarn. It was the best year ever for us, sales-wise. I am almost out of yarn, and sold all the knitted items. Thanks to Twisted Knitters, the Community Center Christmas Bazaar, Sun Mountain Lodge, the Mazama Store, and Cashmere Cottage Yarns. Now I have to get busy and start washing and dyeing.
The next few months will be busy with that, plus helping out with the Okanogan Valley Fiber Festival planning. We have more people to help this year, which is a huge relief, as my plate is getting pretty full. I was elected Secretary of the North American Wool Co-op, which is a group of fiber farmers who have collaborated to market their fiber. There are many exciting things happening there that I will be writing about during the coming year, so stay tuned.
Bill and I wish you all a very happy and prosperous New Year!
My intentions of doing weekly updates have stretched to a month, and now it seems two months is the interval I can manage. Just after my last update, we had yet another scare with wildfire. On August 19th, a new fire started up the Twisp River near my studio, which was really scary. Bill and I ran up there as soon as we heard about it (about an hour after it started) and took all my yarn and some other valuables out, and got the rooftop sprinkler system running. It was all we could do, as they were evacuating the area, so we came back to Twisp, where we found out the fire was racing towards town and they were evacuating the whole valley. We loaded up all the important stuff from Bill’s office (surveying equipment, computer hard drives, etc.). By the time we finished, there was such a traffic jam that we figured we would just stay there and watch from the back porch of the local watering hole. So there we were, drinking beer and watching the town evacuate. It turned out to be OK, as the Forest Service and all the other agencies poured the resources to the fire and kept it from getting into the town. It was really a sight to behold- huge DC-10’s dropping load after load of retardant, helicopters and other planes flying everywhere, and emergency vehicles whizzing by with sirens blasting. We were relieved when it was all over that most of the houses in the area were saved, but deeply saddened to hear that 3 firefighters had died in the process.
Meanwhile, the fire at the head of the road above the Lamb Ranch had been burning for weeks, and blew up big a few times. They said it was finally getting close to being under control, and then BAM. One night it blew up big and jumped the line and head straight towards us. This time there were lots of Forest Service crew here and they were prepared, as were we. We appreciated that they came by and talked to us about the plan for protecting our road, and each structure in particular. Bill and I told them straight off that we were not leaving this time. We felt that we had to stay to protect our new barn and our house. Since we had been watching it burn all summer, and knew from experience that we can’t count on any help, we had invested in a portable fire pump, hose and nozzles and had a drill to make sure it was all working. The Fire crews that stopped by were impressed with our set-up and said that we pretty much had it covered, and they couldn’t think of anything that we hadn’t done already. Made us feel pretty good! As it turned out, although the fire made several attempts to come over the ridge above our neighbor’s house, it was not successful, and after a few days we were in the clear again.
Even with the fires again this year, we continued working and making progress here at the ranch. Here’s a partial list:
-We got all the fencing replaced, which means that we now have a secure perimeter and nice
sturdy cross fencing so that we can rotate pastures easily. We made sure to put in plenty of gates
which makes moving around much easier.
-Ran electrical power to the barn, chicken coop and storage shed. It’s all buried, so no wires to
break during the winter storms. We will be able to plug in all of our tank heaters, plus the tractor
-Re-routed a water line to provide better pressure in a section of the pasture, and also
a water source inside the barn.
-Installed a French drain in front of the barn to prevent the snowmelt from pooling up.
-And my personal favorite, remodeled the pantry so that I now have tripled my counter space and have an extra sink!
While we had our heads down and were forging ahead with our projects, the sun has been creeping south, and Fall has arrived. We have yet to have an official freeze, but it did get down to 32.5 one night a few weeks ago. I panicked, because I had not harvested all my tomatoes yet, so ran out and put sheets over all of them. I shifted into harvest mode and started putting up every kind of tomato product you can imagine: whole, marinara, juice, ketchup, BBQ sauce, and chutney. Of course we are gorging ourselves on fresh ones, too, every chance we get. I have had to call it quits, though, because I realized that it’s almost November and I hadn’t even started any of the Fall clean-up chores yet. This warm and dry weather is very deceiving! It’s time to start raking leaves and putting the garden to bed for the winter.
I just realized that I haven’t said a word about the sheep. That’s because we have had a very easy summer with the flock. No problems, all healthy and growing nicely. We just separated them from the ewes a few weeks ago, and started the Fall butchering. We have sold out all the meat that we have available for this season, and have started a waiting list for the Spring. Many are repeat customers, so that makes us feel good. Our local yarn shop has been selling our yarn steadily all summer, and we expect to sell more now that the cool weather is here and people are starting to think about hats and sweaters. I can’t wait to get back to the studio to start washing and dyeing again.
I will be attending a seminar at the end of the month to learn more about sheep management, and some new genetic testing programs that could help us improve our fleece quality. We will be putting the rams in to breed in a few weeks, too. Still lots to do before winter sets in, so stay tuned for the next update with all the news about the Lamb Ranch.
Happy Fall everyone- stay warm!
I’m not doing very well on my promise for more frequent updates. We are busy managing multiple projects, as usual, and the days are just not long enough!
The lambs continue to grow and are healthy and happy. Our normal pasture rotation has been somewhat disrupted due to all the fence building, but we’re not complaining. The entire perimeter is now complete, and most of the interior cross fencing as well. It should all be done by the end of September. It’s so gratifying to see the progress and the nice new fences standing up straight. It will take some doing for any predators to get through these!
We took a few days off to celebrate the 4th of July, which was big fun. Family and friends were here to watch the parade in town, then we all came down to the ranch and spent the afternoon at our local swimming hole (temps were 100+), followed by a BBQ on the lawn by the barn. It was really just a perfect day.
We also made time to attend one of our favorite annual events- the Methow Chamber Music Festival. It features world class musicians who spend 10 days performing chamber music all over the valley. We went to the opening night concert and the closing night performance as well. It did not disappoint!
Then it was back to the grindstone. The main project for me was to clean up and organize our laundry room. It was full of junk and hadn’t really been scrubbed out for years, so I emptied it all and pulled up the old carpet. This revealed the old rotten floor, which had to be torn up, so it ended up being pretty much a complete overhaul, down to the studs. Not my area of expertise at all, but between Bill and I, we are getting it back together and it looks pretty good. Just need to assemble and install cabinets now, and touch up some final painting. It’s taken over a month, but will make my life so much better.
At the same time, we finally got around to getting electricity to the new barn. Bill dug the trench, and the electrician came and buried the line and hooked it up just yesterday. We now have outlets all over the place and can put the extension cords away. Another job checked off the list!
I don’t have much going on in the garden this year. Since the compost pile burned up, I didn’t fertilize and it shows. A few of the essential things are doing OK- tomatoes, potatoes, beets and carrots are all thriving. Beans aren’t doing so well, but that may be because the chickens have found a way in and have been scratching up everything like crazy. We can’t seem to find where there are getting in- suspect that they are jumping over the top, but haven’t caught them red-handed yet.
Speaking of chickens, our chicks that were hatched in April are getting all grown up now, and I’m starting to hear at least of couple of them try out their crowing. That means some more roosters for the stock pot. And for some reason this has been a banner year for broody hens. I had two more go broody, so I let them have at it. The both hatched out chicks within a few days of each other- one had 2, and the other had 4. I have put them together in the small pen, and although they tolerate each other, they don’t really get along. The Cuckoo Maran is definitely the dominant one- she will jump all over the Red Sussex if she feels that her space is being infringed upon. They are both very good with the chicks, though, and are all getting enough to eat and drink, so as soon as the chicks are big enough to avoid the cat, I’ll let them outside.
We continue to see changes since last year’s fire. The hillsides were green with new growth this Spring, but unfortunately much of it was the dreaded mustard weed. They are dried up now, and any time there is a gust of wind, they form tumbleweeds which for some reason all end up in our driveway. At one point, there was a wall of tumbleweed about 6 ft high! And our irrigation diversion box has a lot more algae in it this year. We figure that since the trees that used to shade the creek are gone now, it is exposed to sunlight which has increased the algae growth considerably. There is one little guy who seems to like it, though. I clean the screens daily, and for the past few weeks have seen a small frog clinging to the screen and sometimes sitting on top, as in this photo. I know there are many more like him around here, because at dusk and on into the early evening it is a symphony of frogs and other insects.
That’s all for now. Stay tuned for the next update!
Springtime is always busy around here, and this year is no exception. Every week I think I will update the blog, and now two months have gone by! First item of business is to give the final lamb report- total count is 22. For some reason it was really lopsided as far as gender goes. 18 males, and only 6 females. Two of the males are black, all the other lambs are white. There were 8 sets of twins and 6 singles. This was the best year ever in terms of health and good mothering. All of the mothers are excellent, and all the lambs were large and healthy. They were all born during the daytime hours, between 6 am and 4 pm. Couldn’t ask for better than that! I stuck around pretty closely and we had a pretty good system. The pasture was divided with the electric fence, so that all the ewes were in the area near the barn. I could easily see when they were starting labor and would let them have their lambs outside on the nice green pasture. (The weather was beautiful the whole 3 weeks). I’d give them an hour or two together to let the lambs get up on their feet, then I’d bring the lamb down to the barn, with Mama closely following, and put them in the temporary lambing pens we had set up. After 24 hrs of observation to make sure that they were bonding and eating, they got to re-join the flock. It all went very smoothly, and we are really pleased to not have to deal with bottle feeding.
One thing we are particularly excited about is that we have 3 lambs from our new Cormo ram, Manny. He was only 9 months old when we started breeding and we weren’t going to even try with him this year as we figured he was too young and still pretty small. We put him in with the other ram and ewes just to see what would happened, but our new dog, Callie, was getting a little rough with him so we took him out after only 2 days. He was in an area by himself, and he busted out and got into the other side of the barn where we have our non-breeding sheep. There was one particular ewe that he was enamored with – a smaller 2 year old- so we thought, why not? We put her in with him, and ended up with a single lamb. We noticed that he has a pink nose, a Cormo feature, and also noticed that a set of twins from the main flock had the same, so little Manny must have had success with one ewe while he was in with the others for those 2 days. These lambs are Cormo x Romney crosses, and should have some really nice fleeces. Can’t wait to see what they look like!!!
All during lambing, I was deep into planning for our local Fiber Festival, which took place on May 30-31, and was a big success. We had about 400 attendees, and everyone loved the Agriplex as a venue. There were lots of really wonderful raffle prizes, and the winners were thrilled. It was a lot of work, but it paid off. We are already starting to plan for next year.
At the same time all this was going on, we got started on our fence building. I should say the guys we hired to build fence got started. It was hard for Bill to let someone else do this job, but it was the only way it was going to happen, and we desperately needed to replace the burned up fencing and finish the new section that we started last year. The crew of two guys got all the perimeter finished and it looks great. We will be doing the interior dividing fences ourselves as we have time. The list of things to do is still so long we can't see the end, but we're plugging away a little at a time. We did manage to get a new compost containment area done, and it is really nice. Close to the barn, but still out of the way and easy access for the tractor. Can't wait until Fall to get some of it spread on the garden!
Every day has been so full that I hardly know where to start- the sun has been shining and I realized that I had better get my seedlings started before summer is here. We got the greenhouse up and I mixed up my secret recipe of starting mix. The little seeds must be happy, because they are sprouting up all over the place.
Another thing that is sprouting up are lambs! We had our first lamb right on schedule Saturday afternoon, followed by twins on Sunday morning, a single on Monday, and a single and pair of twins on Tuesday. Whew. Yesterday the ewes took a day off and so far we have none today. This is definitely the year of the ram- we have 6 males and only 1 female so far, and all white. Usually it's split pretty evenly with a few black ones. There are about 4 ewes who are so close, and I expect to see them have their lambs in the next few days, so time will tell. I'm posting some videos below. One is a few days after shearing, in the early morning when it was still cool and the yearlings were feeling frisky and happy to be free of their heavy coats. The other is from yesterday, when some of the lambs were playing in the shade under the willow tree. They are about 3 days old and just full of spit and vinegar.
Life on the Ranch
This Blog is intended to be a summary of the events of daily life that take place on our ranch. We hope you find it interesting - feel free to comment if you like.