The sheep are sheared, and we expect the first lambs of 2018 to arrive in a little over a week. Stay tuned!
After the holidays, with the shop finally done, I finally had time to devote to fiber. I set up a washing station in the garage, where we had plumbed hot and cold running water that connects with hoses to my two portable sinks. The best part of the setup is an on-demand water heater that I can set to 167 degrees. No more boiling water on the stove, waiting for the water heater to warm up, or trying to muddle through with not quite warm enough water. It has really streamlined the whole process and is so convenient! Once the fleece is washed, I take it upstairs where I have my mordanting kettles on the stove. I put it in, heat it up, and leave it all night. By the next morning it is ready to go on the drying rack. I can get through one large fleece or two small fleeces easily in a day.
The next step is the dyeing. I prepare the dyestuff ahead of time, and once I have several washed, mordanted fleeces ready to go, I move into dyeing mode. That's the fun part! I just experiment with different colors, sometimes combining them, sometimes doing one color, then over-dyeing with a different color. Then I take a small sample from each one and soak it in modifying baths that are different pH, and also iron. If I like what I see, I might do the whole fleece. No two batches ever come out quite the same.
In 2016 all the lambs were from our Cormo ram, Manny, which meant that all the yearling fleeces that were sheared in 2017 were the Romney x Cormo cross. I had them all micron tested, and found that they all fell in to the 19-24 micron range which is quite nice. I got through all of them so there will be a lot of really nice yarn and roving as a result. I have been spinning a little of it myself, and it's dreamy....
Other than working with fleece, it's been a pretty routine winter and early Spring. We had our usual bout of early warm weather, then it got cold again. The past few weeks the snow really started to melt off. The garlic is starting to show it's little sprouts in the garden, and the chickens finally have some open ground to scratch around in. We had a bunch of roosters that hatched last year and grew up to be extremely noisy and ornery fellows. In March Bill dispatched 5 of them and I stripped the meat off the bones for future use in sausage, and used the bones to make 30 quarts of delicious bone broth. It's so nice to have the extra space in the fiber studio, where there is a ventilation fan. I can simmer stock all night long on an electric burner and use the pressure canner on the gas stove, all without messing up the kitchen in the house.
In early March I sent off over 50 lbs of fiber to Spinderella's to get made into yarn and roving and they did their usual excellent job and quick turnaround. It was less than a month door to door, and my next job is to get labels on it all and put it on the website store and see if anyone wants to buy it! Our local yarn shop in Twisp closed last year, so I am going to try more on-line sales and see how that goes. I will still sell yarn at the Mazama store and at Wooley Mama's yarn shop in Omak, but spinners mostly buy their roving on-line or at fiber festivals. Stay tuned for updates on that.
Remember the culvert I mentioned in the last blog post? Well, the latest warm weather followed by two days of rain has given it a real test, and we are happy to report that it is working splendidly! Our little rock waterfall is holding up, and the rocks we put around the edges are staying firm. The big culvert looks almost empty, even though this much flow last year would have overwhelmed the old one. We are feeling very happy about the whole thing.
The sheep are sheared, and we expect the first lambs of 2018 to arrive in a little over a week. Stay tuned!
Apologies, dear readers, for taking a whole year off from Blog updates! Last year was crazy busy for us, and not only did I neglect the blog, I set all my fiber work aside and just concentrated on getting the shop done. All the usual activities went on (lambing, gardening, etc.) but every spare moment was devoted to finishing the building so we could start using it. I. won’t bore you with too many details, but this entry will be a catch-up review of 2017 with a few highlights and photos.
When I left you last, our dear Nellie had just died and winter 2016-2017 was in full swing.
Old Man Winter was pretty kind to us. The temps stayed fairly normal, and the young dogs took over full time guarding. In February Alfred, who was 14 months old, had his first real experience protecting his flock. A couple of coyotes got pretty close and were making a racket one Saturday morning. The dogs were with the ewes on the far side of the barn, and Alfred figured that the yearling bunch needed protection, so he scrambled over the dividing fence (a snow berm made it pretty easy) and rounded up the gang, moved them away from the barn, and stood guard in front of them for at least a full 10 minutes. Meanwhile, his partner, Callie, stayed with the ewes and barked like crazy while Bill went up with his rifle and fired off a warning shot. The coyotes got the message and decided it was better to leave. Only when the coast was clear did the dogs release their charges. It was something to see!
During February and March we fired up the wood stove in the shop and worked on electrical and insulation. By April, we were ready for sheetrock – that was one job we left to the professionals, and were so pleased with the fast excellent job they did.
Eventually Spring arrived, as it always does, and in late March our shearer, Martin, came and sheared 42 sheep in just a few hours. 23 of them were our new Romney x Cormo cross and they look beautiful!
April – June 2017
Lambing due date was April 19th, and we are traditionally right on schedule. We usually have at least one ewe lamb on the first day, with the others following shortly after. I was pretty much ready by the wee before, but had a few things left to do. On the 14thI went to town to stock up on a few things, and was going to come back and set up the electric fence to keep the sheep closer to the barn where I could see them. I did my usual check on the flock before I left, and all was quiet. When I returned two hours later, there was a huge commotion in the upper part of the pasture up over the rise of the hill where I couldn’t see. I heard dogs barking, sheep baaaa-ing and figured there must be some sort of disaster. As I got closer I heard a lamb cry and soon saw a mother ewe with one lamb, and the other one a little way off. The dogs were “protecting” the lone lamb from it’s mother and she was desperate to get to it. I intervened and got them all together, when I heard another lamb crying! I couldn’t believe it- two ewes lamb 5 days early when I happen to be gone for 2 hours? I looked around to see who the other mother was, and all the rest of the ewes were sitting quietly with no evidence of having recently given birth. I finally figured out that this was a set of triplets. Pretty extraordinary, considering the daddy was our new ram, George, who was only 9 months old when he bred her. After a comical episode of me trying to carry 3 lambs at once, with a concerned mother following me down the hill, I finally got them all into the barn in a lambing pen with food and water and they settled down in to a happy little family. The rest of the lambing went mostly smoothly, with George performing very respectably for a young ram. He had 2 sets of triplets and 3 sets of twins with the 5 ewes he bred with. Manny, our Cormo ram, held up his end with one set of triplets, and 4 sets of twins from his ewes.
Once lambing was done I went back to working on the shop and garden, and had an additional job of keeping an eye out on the rising creek just outside our door. With the recent wildfires, there is simply no vegetation to absorb the Spring runoff, and the creek runs higher than it ever has in the recent past. This year a culvert at the bottom of the county road plugged and McFarland creek became a raging torrent that washed out the paved road, almost stranding those of us who live upstream. In addition, the culvert that runs under the driveway to our barn was too small to handle the flow and we ended up with sandbags in front of our basement. All worked out OK, but it was a long 6 weeks before it finally receded. We decided to have the culvert removed and replaced with a larger one in the Fall.
If that wasn’t enough to keep us on our toes, in May the hillside where our water supply line is buried slid and tore out about 100 ft of our pipe. It took a couple of weeks to repair, during which time we rigged up our trusty fire pump to get water to the troughs for the livestock. As usual, our dear friends Jeff and Maria came to help us in our time of need, and assisted with hooking up the new pipe. What would we do without them!?
Fortunately there were no more disasters in the second half of the year. Bill’s friends Matt and Cathy visited us from Oregon and helped put up the walk-in cooler that we have had in storage for 5 years. It fit perfectly into the space we designed for it, which was very satisfying. We finished painting the interior of the new shop, and installed cabinets and lighting.
We did take a few days to go to Oregon to view the solar eclipse. Bill’s mom lives right in the path of totality, and we all went to a camping spot a few miles from her home and had a fantastic view. It is the first total eclipse that I have seen, and I highly recommend making the effort to see one if you can. The rest of the summer flew by, and we celebrated the harvest with our traditional asado lamb roast, which was a perfect combination of family, friends and neighbors, and of course amazing food.
Sept – Dec 2017
The last quarter of the year was busy as usual. Canning, preparing for winter, and of course working on the shop. We had a Halloween surprise, when one of our hens showed up on October 31st with a single chick. We finished all the interior trim work and finally started moving into the new shop. Bill found a nice drill press that someone was selling for cheap, and we built workbenches, moved cabinets and generally got things organized. We were really happy to get our mini-split heat pump hooked up, and found that it kept everything toasty warm. The cooler compressor was connected, too, and proved to be very convenient for our Fall butchering. We bought beef from our neighbor, and were able to hang that for a month, which made for some mighty tender steaks! After all the meat was gone, we used it through the winter as a root cellar, and I have to say, I have never before had carrots last until April without getting soft. I stored them in a bin with peat moss slightly dampened, and it works like a dream. A carrot that I took out of the bin on April 1st(harvested in late October) was as firm and crunchy as if it were just pulled out of the ground. We managed to get some shelves built in the carport for storage, and Bill got enough wood split to last us all winter. We spent the holidays with friends and family, reflecting on how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful, bountiful place.
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.