Category Archives: In the Pasture

What is happening with the animal residents of the farm.

Farming Nuts and Bolts

Many folks might see farming in a romantic way, especially when it comes to raising sheep. One might think it would be great to work out doors in beautiful pastures with cute sheep running around. And yes, there is a little of that. But first and foremost, farming is not only a way of life, it is a business too, with lots of challenges.
One prominent challenge that comes to mind, at this time of year especially, is the weather.
The pastures are muddy and it is a challenge to deal with the cold and the rain. Muddy boots are the norm. It seems this year, we have had more than our share of rain, so finding a day to wash and dry yarn and fleeces can be tough. But we managed to do a little dyeing last weekend and used a rare dry day to hang out some freshly dyed yarn.
I do wear many hats, from shepherd, to accountant, to pattern designer and marketer…I can’t do it all alone. I am always seeking strong farm partners, such as a great mill. It took a few mill runs to find Lydia at Gurdy Run Fiber Mill in Halifax, PA. Mills vary in areas of expertise, and schedules. Many mills can take as long as a year to get yarn back after delivering fleeces. Most are run as part time businesses and that can be a problem to a farmer who is beyond the hobby stage and is making a business out of selling her yarn. Lydia not only achieves wonderful consistency in her fingering weight yarn (not easy with a unique fleece like shetlands) but she is reliable in her completion dates. She has always delivered our yarn within 5 months. Almost unheard of in the mini-mill business.
Another great partner is my hay guy. I went through a few until I  finally found Larry. He is a 2nd generation cattle farmer who now makes a retirement business raising hay for local farmers. He is a partner I cannot do without. He keeps my sheep fed especially during the Winter months, with quality hay. If he or his cousin is out of stock, he seeks out other sources for me. He believes in my farm business and shows it with his efforts. I pay him of course, but I also keep him in socks too!
And last but not least…I have my family and friends. Many show up on shearing day to help with sweeping, bagging and sorting. Some days it can be cold. like 3 weeks ago when we last sheared. But there were no complaints. All stayed until the job was done.  And my husband is not only an expert sheep catcher, he will do extra duty, filling in for me feeding all the critters when I am sick with a cold. I am so grateful for the angels in my life that participate in, support and honor our family farm.
 
 
Bringing an American raised and processed yarn with the beautiful characteristics unique only to Shetland wool is a real privilege. Mentoring a sheep breed like Shetland can be very difficult, but it is important to maintain the breed. Most shearers do not like to shear a small primitive sheep. The collection of breeds known as Northern Short Tails such as Finn, Gotland, Icelandics and Shetland can begin to shed. This event is known as the rise and it can make it difficult to get a blade through. The small size of the sheep also presents challenges as they have more angles. It takes a very skilled and willing shearer to handle these challenges. It takes understanding that the quality of the fleeces are worth the effort. These qualities include softness with strength and resistance to pilling. And the beautiful natural colors makes this an exceptional breed, loved by lace and fair isle knitters and handspinners around the world.
I love the Scottish history of this breed, who thrived on scarce rations on small islands in the North Sea, having been left by Vikings hundreds of years ago. The crofters (farmers) have protected and mentored this little sheep and  continue to do so today. Artisans have created works of art in lace from Unst and colorful stranded knitting known as Fair Isle. I fell in love with this little  sheep and strive to create an American version of Shetland yarn with patterns to go with it. And the socks we produce on the farm have been amazing too. So keep following along with us on our farming adventure. It is never dull and the work is never quite done. But we love it, and the friends we have made along the  way.
Our farm store is updated with 3 new colors of Hilltop Shetland fingering along with a new Spring Shawl pattern.
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“I keep sheep and my sheep keep me. ”

As one wanders through life making choices one hopes is in line with their purpose… sometimes you stumble on an ah-ha  moment.  I have been struggling with the notion that perhaps farming is not for me after all.  It has been tough this last year especially as I singularly work at the daily chores, feeding all the hungry mouths. 

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There is just so much,  not to mention household stuff that goes undone (Why can’t there be maid service at home and not just at hotels!) And to pay the bills,  I have gone back to doing corporate travel.  And fortunately I work out of the house,  but it does take up some 25 hours weekly.

Well back to the subject at hand.  One of my goals with the farm is to manufacture an end product derived from the Shetland wool.  I have produced yarn and roving and other supplies for spinners and knitters…but in the back of my mind,  I wanted it to be clothing. So I had this notion,  why not try to obtain one of the antique sock machines used at the turn of the century?  Well that journey alone had a few dead ends as I learned more about these machines and to evaluate them.  But finally I made a wise purchase.  I then went about the business of learning how to use it.  I had lots of sock yarn I have dyed,  so last Christmas,  all of my family received socks and I have posted some for sale in my farm shop on Etsy. 

The other part of the equation was getting usable yarn from the wool fleeces I have been collecting. I was working with a mill close by for a few years in the hopes of achieving a sock yarn.  But her experience with her equipment and the unusual qualities of Shetland fleeces did not lead us to that goal.  And by now… I had a very good fix in my mind what the yarn needed to be.  No more than fingering weight,  smooth with no slubs,  two ply and a little nylon mixed in. 

So last fall,  while vending at the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, I stumbled upon a booth for Gurdy Run Fiber Mill.  I looked at all the sock yarn she had on display and asked a few questions.  She specialized in sock yarn.  Music to my ears of course.  So I decided to give her a try.  She let me wash my fleeces so the incoming weight would be less and my costs less too. And another piece of luck… She was in Halifax PA,  on the way to my youngest son’s college and I could drop off fleeces instead of adding the cost of shipping.  So we dropped off 9 fleeces and crossed our fingers. 

Nearly five months later… The yarn came.  Cost was not too bad.. a rare thing from a mill.  And the eighteen pounds of Moorit and Shaela colored yarn… was what I had been seeking for the last five years. 

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I was eager to try it on my machine.  I tweaked the tension… And made two pairs of socks, a Shaela pair in my husband’s size and a Moorit pair in mine.

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They were strong and had the unique silky feel of Shetland.  And there it was… a realization I had achieved a major farm goal that few are doing…growing the fiber and manufacturing a piece of clothing on the farm. It is done with vegetables,  soap,  and meat.  But not with clothing.  Local sourcing clothing has happened little since mass production,  especially since it has gone overseas.  But there is a movement afoot (yes,  pun intended)  to grow the fiber arts.  And with it,  a quest for locally sourced clothing.  A farm is a business and the numbers have to work,  but also the work has to have meaning. If the heart is happy,  the body might not mind the sacrifice and work.  We will see if this part is true,  stay tuned. 

Oh and visit the farm shop for your own 1910 Shepherd’s Socks.  They will be posted soon along side the colorful hand dyed socks I mentioned. 

Feeling My Age during Artic Blast

I chose a career change to shepherd in my middle age, and I really haven’t addressed those unique physical challenges. I actually enjoy the physical part of the job and take pride of the fact I can hoist 50 pound feed sacks and hay bales. I took a sheep shearing class and can shear my sheep the traditional New Zealand way and did so until a couple of years ago when my numbers increased to require a professional. But I can shear when the need arises such as illness or before a sale. And I can woman handle a ram or large buck (in the case of goats,) and I can work a day long sheep catching day when we load up the barn with sheep before the shearer arrives. So as we were visited by record cold temps that simply would not leave for about a couple of weeks, I began to feel my age down to my bones.

The super cold air meant one small word, but huge problem: ICE!

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Ice was cracked with a broken hoe that could lift chunks of ice.

We had to come up with a strategy to first keep the water flowing and then deal with keeping the water liquid for the rabbits, sheep, goats and chickens and our few ducks. This added to our…ok my chores and for the length of time I needed to be outside. On some days, the temps did not get out of the teens, some days lower. I would be outside for about 2-3 hours. I pulled into service old coffee cans for the rabbits as their steel tipped waterers froze immediacy and would not work, period. The two sets of coffee cans were changed out daily as one set could be melting while indoors.

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Maizy bunny drinks from her coffee can.

Chickens water had to be replace two to three times daily

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Chickens eager for their fresh liquid water.

and the sheep and goats water had to have ice cracked to expose the liquid underneath. But it was cold for so long, solid blocks result and water had to be replaced via buckets as hoses were useless.

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Sheep wake up to another frigid day.

The ducks were my comic relief as I would create a puddle under the water hydrant and the ducks bathed, drank and played as their pond froze over. Not only did their pond freeze, but the big farm pond froze too resulting in the wild geese standing on it rather than swimming in it.

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Ducks take joy from a mud puddle before it froze too.

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Our frozen farm pond.

Each day, I dressed head to foot in fleece and wool and headed out to solve the days problems. Each day I felt more tired and my joints ached. Some days I just could not get warm and would soak in a hot tub to try and bring my body back to normal. My idle thoughts were wandering to doubts about my career decision. I mean, this is my passion, and I love creating products out of this wonderful wool and I love my relationship with the animals. I did come to one conclusion, I could not have made it through these days without my wool socks. My feet were always warm.  And I resolved to soldier on to produce such a useful, natural and beautiful fiber that has not failed us for thousands of years. No synthetic has ever been created that surpasses wool for qualities of warmth, renewability, strength, breathability and so many more. I just need to step up my conditioning to deal with this “global warming thang” and I intend to.

And news alert….on the front burner is a mission to produce a strong stretchy sock yarn using the Shetland Wool. And even Sweet Tree Hill Farm signature socks. So more on this later. Stay tuned!

Paying Homage to the Guardian Dog

I sit here contemplating this new year and I am looking at my schedule of events, to do’s and so on. I am scheduled to pick up Roz this Saturday. She is our new Anatolian guardian dog for the flock and farm in general. She is a well seasoned five year old and my hope is that she will be ready to provide a much needed service.

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Nisa always ready for a pat.

Many of you might know that for the last two and a half years, I had been training another Anatolian from a puppy, Nisa. She and I built a solid working relationship, but also a friendship. Nisa loved walking the pastures with me, prancing back to me for a quick lean into my leg and my pats on the head. I treasured these moments with her. And she loved playing fetch and rolling on her back for tummy rubs.

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Introducing Nisa to new lambs. She would make herself small and ease over to them.

As time went on, however, we found she was too obsessive in her thinking. She would clean lambs to the point of injury. And she would want to control the movements of the flock, regardless of countless corrections I would do. Finally I realized, it was not working out. A sad fact that became very apparent when my husband found her with a ram lamb and one of his horns was chewed off. Sycamore survived, but I had to face that Nisa could not be trusted with the flock. I had to make a tough phone call to the breeder to discuss the situation. Harriet was both counselor and responsible breeder. She was concerned for my flock, the dog and me as I held back tears describing what was going on. I was feeling that somehow I had gone wrong in the training and failed Nisa, not providing her the tools to perform her job. Harriet assured me that was not the case. There was something off with how Nisa’s brain was working. She was somewhat obsessive compulsive. This would be tough to train out of her. And based on how responsive she was with people, a better fit for her might be as a pet instead of a worker.

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Nisa is beautiful and I miss her immeasurably.

I did consider keeping her as a pet. That would be the emotional decision, not a business one. I had invested quite a bit of time and money into a guardian and the farm was in desperate need of a guardian. I was speaking to the pig farmer next door and he was telling me of all the coyote sightings recently in our area. And he has suffered piglet losses himself. Any one who has a flock must take seriously the predator threats and partnering with a guardian dog is how I am combating this threat to my investment in my flock, rabbits and chickens. So, Harriet came up with a solution. She took back Nisa a few weeks ago. Driving to Charles City with Nisa’ s head resting on my shoulder was difficult as I blinked away tears so I could focus on the road. She is now being worked with so she can be placed as a pet with a carefully chosen family. And we are getting Roz. She has worked with lambs, chickens and was looking for a guardian gig. The fact she is available is a true blessing. Another blessing is a breeder who takes care of her dogs, even after they are sold.

So Saturday, we meet the newest staff member of Sweet Tree Hill Farm. And I have high hopes she will be a match for our farm. And protect my livestock like a pro. I am in awe of working dogs and I look forward to my new partner.

Keeping it Real!

One of the challenges these days in being a shepherd and creating a business out of a fiber farm is the necessity of using technology in marketing, bookkeeping, bill paying, and networking. Yesterday, I faced the very real cost of data usage and staying connected out here in the sticks, as my kids call it. We have no cable connection, no fiber optics, or anything like that. I have used a little 3G mifi hotspot for my computer and tablet for five years. And my kids have done their YouTube viewing and played their Wii games because the mifi can provide internet service to up to five devices. The beauty of this set up was that it was for unlimited data. And now I am finding the companies are regretting offering this service and are trying to rein it in. The world of technology is changing as data is getting more and more expensive. Even a shepherd needs to be mindful of data usage.

You see, my little mifi was getting painfully slow. I thought my device was failing. I called tech support, but they could not help me, sent me to a repair/retail center. I knew what this meant, they wanted me to get a new device, hence a new a plan….a plan that would require me to pay for data. Yikes!!! As I looked up our last month of data usage and we sucked up 19 gigs! Well,  fortunately I found out that it was the battery. I could not get a battery at the retail center anymore however. I went to a cool store called Battery and Bulbs. They stock all these obscure batteries and lightbulbs and bingo! They had my battery. I can still keep my plan of unlimited data for only $60 per month a bit longer!! I learned one more thing. Sprint and Verizon and other companies are throttling the data hogs such as my household. They were slowing our data usage on purpose. That also accounted for the slow downs. So a little talk was necessary with my teenagers in their data usage.

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Three of my boys at a family dinner.

This lesson in technology and how much we use it, even on a farm, brings to mind how thankful I am that I am in a line of work that is not virtual. I still feel the cold and the heat of the world. My hands get dirty, I get hay down my bra when I feed my sheep and goats. I smell the earth as the ground warms in the Spring.

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During one of my pasture walks.

I can walk a pasture and know that no one can collect the data of my foot prints. I build relationships with my animals that does not involve office politics. I get to work with real wool, smell the lanolin, wash it, comb it, spin it, knit and weave it. All real tasks that connects me to the planet and to being human on it. Computers have become a necessity of doing business, even a fiber business. But it does not have to encapsulate us from the real world. I love tech, I am good at it. But I would not feel real if I allowed it to swallow me. I need to use it to market the very real world of fiber and bring it to people so they too can smell the lanolin, the wool, the earth.

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Loving Lokie, one of my ram lambs.

A December Pasture Check

As we dive straight into December and busy ourselves getting ready for the coming holiday, it serves me well to take notice of my friends in the pasture. These days are short on sunshine, but when it is out, the animals are too; napping, exploring, nibbling or just hanging out. All seem content, and not the least bit stressed. I for one am looking at the time left and trying to figure how I am going to get all the knitting, embroidery and crafting done to complete the gifts I am planning to make. But these fuzzy critters are not frazzled.

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Hickory is enjoying his stay in the “honeymoon suite”. He is assigned to be dad of the spring lambs because of his soft moorit brown fleece and all around good looks and sweet personality. I would really like more brown lambs to have more brown yarn and roving on hand. He is enjoying the company of four ewes, Pansy, Dahlia, Gwyneth, and Motto.

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Estelle, Ettienne and Rupert heading out for a day of free ranging.

The duck trio are our newest residents. They were rescue ducks from Wildlife Rehabilitation. They usually rescue and doctor injured wild animals. But these three were domestic ducks that were neglected and one was attacked by a dog. All were in sad shape. But they were recovered and needed a forever home. We were chosen because of our ponds. But they actually prefer bathing and swimming in their tub. They take turns jumping in and splash around as only one can fit at one time. I have nicknamed them the bucket ducks. They have settled into their routine. They head back to the barn at night to be go to bed protected in one of the stalls. So they are there by dusk without me having to herd them back. And I am excited to report that Estelle is now laying eggs for the first time.

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Chickens are almost full grown!

The bantam chickens are just about full grown now. And I have to say, they are so delightful in how they all get along and play together. I wish I were so care free. I am eagerly waiting eggs, but in the meantime, I am enjoying their antics.

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Bluebelle and Lily eager for breakfast

The growing lambs are getting used to their new haircuts. We sheared a couple of weeks ago and I understand that lambs should go through a growth spurt after shearing. They look so sweet as they go about looking for food, take naps in the sun and even spar with each other. I am amused as I see baby ewes butt heads like rams. And they take their sparring seriously. Yet are friends after the battle.

So I am refreshed after visiting and feeding everyone this morning. Now back to speed knitting.

Have you followed a dream?

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Me on a cold day at the farm.

During the colder days, the weather forces one to head indoors and drink warm drinks and take a measure of the work accomplished this year. We are nearing the end of our first official year as a real wool farm. Our first fiber festival was in April. Our flock had grown enough wool to produce a bit if yarn, roving, both natural and dyed. I discovered felt. Mary at the mill suggested we make felt sheets with leftover wool and I began making hats, purses, jewelry that inspired me to break out my embroidery thread and discover silk ribbon which I also dyed. And poof! Value added products from our Shetland Wool.

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Hat made with Shetland felt in Natural Black.

And the sheep. I have learned so much from them. I am working with our pastures and have been studying up on nutrition and last Spring my seven ewes blessed me with fifteen lambs! And due some logistics issues, one more ewe gave me one more lamb in August. I have learned that there is a vulnerability during weening and I need to make sure every lamb gets additional supplements. These lessons were learned the hard way as I lost a lamb while I was out of town. I learned I need to supplement my rams just a bit more as they are a bit lean.

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Rams in the bachelor's quarters

We had more festivals in the fall, but found out I could not get into the Fall Fiber Festival at Montpelier. So in less than a week after the festival, I sent my application in for 2014. Hell or high water, I will be at that festival!!! And I learned to stick to fiber festivals, leaving the gift type festival for others after the fiasco at the Appalachian Harvest Festival.

But the realization that I was doing at least a little bit right was after the shearing. My ewes were in good condition. They and the rams had produced the best batch of clean, lustrous fleeces I have ever seen. Twenty seven of them. I can’t bring myself to put them away as I process them. I want to look at them. I want to smell them. I want their sheared ends to tickle my palm as I walk by. Deciding to take the chance to let wool get into my blood has lead me here. Knitting was not enough. Spinning was not enough. Something inside has allowed God to lead me on this crazy journey of raising fiber animals, to this broken down 100 year old diamond in the rough farm in these gorgeous Virginia hills. To try and make a business out of this love affair with wool. I do struggle with how scary the financial part is as I am lousy with money, and I don’t know how I can make all my bills. Lots of juggling and lots of sleepless nights and lots of praying, but God somehow gives me a sale, or an opportunity and an idea or an angel that lends a hand and I am still here.

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One of the Shetland Fleeces on shearing day

What sees me through is the work. I love feeding and visiting with the animals. I love even cleaning stalls, hutches, repairing a fence, a barn. Moving animals keeps me in shape. And I love the tedious job of grading the fleeces as I get to touch the wool. I can’t get enough of being outside, even in the cold. I can’t imagine doing anything else. If I won the lottery, I would be here. Perhaps I would have a new roof and siding on the house or a new barn, more fencing, but I would be here. Dreams get you moving, dreams take you on a journey. The trip can be and often is filled with heartbreak, filled with challenges that force you to rise and better yourself to meet those challenges. It is often humbling when God loves your dream enough to send you the help, the angels, the skills that you had inside that you never knew about.

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So as Thanksgiving approaches, I take stock of my blessings. And I give thanks to God for giving me the courage to take this dream journey and for accompanying me as my partner. Non of my family shares in my passion, yet they are with me too. I hope my example provides the blueprint for my kids to follow their dreams. When I started, I had no idea of what I would experience. But each lesson, each challenge is a blessing. But the rewards are priceless.

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Autumn view at Sweet Tree Hill Farm

My plan for the new year is to bring other fiber farmers together so we can help each other deal with our challenges and inspire and work together to ensure our success. More to come on that later.

Pasture Transitions

The end of August, beginning of September is a time of readying for Fall Festivals and cold temps. The season has shifted. Summer birds like the Phoebe and the Swallows have left the pond and pastures. No longer do the Barn Swallows swoop over my head in defense of their youngsters. I am beginning to see Monarchs along with the Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies as they gather nectar for their long trip to South America. The bullfrogs are not as vocal along the pond’ s edge. And this year, cooler evenings have come early. So my activities now reflect the season’s transition.

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Pond' s edge.

Tomorrow, I will be gathering our five ram lambs into the barn paddock. They are weaned now. I will evaluate whether I will wether. It only makes sense to keep boys in tact if they have some great genetics to share. I know one or two definitely have good sire potential, namely Quince and Lokie. Quince has an excellent head and he is a very light fawn. The best attribute is that he has a very kindly fleece. Tiny crimp with a low micron count. Lokie has strong black genes, sweet temperament and lofty fine fleece. He also has a sturdy body type. These are some of the things I look for. Color and quality of fleece, nice face with good horns, strong large body. They will be in the paddock until our back field fence is completed.

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Quince

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Lokie gets a scratch.

Other decisions to made; which ewes to which rams. I know I will be using Hickory for his moorit fleece. And maybe Pecan for his outstanding body, head and horns. He is a light fawn. I want to choose about five ewes this year.

A project my friend Hannah and I are working on, building additions to five of the bunny hutches so they have interior space for the winter. We have three built. Hannah has great carpentry skills and I am painting and helping with the planning. I am painting them to match the color of my studio barn, only because I have so much of the paint left over. Painting will help them last longer. Moisture from weather and bunny can cause wood to rot. In the past I would place wood panels around the hutches during the colder days. Now all the bunnies will have a place to go to get out of the cold.

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Bunny Hutch additions in progress.

There are many fall and craft festivals taking place relatively close by. I have chosen two, the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival at the end of this month, and the Appalachian Harvest Festival at Mountain Lake Lodge, (used to be Smith Mountain Lake where Dirty Dancing was filmed.) I tried to get into the Fall Fiber Festival in Orange, but they have limited space available. Glad their rules are changing for next year so everyone will have a fair shot. Anyway…I am spinning, dyeing, embroidering, sewing, skeining, to get items ready.

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Embroidered front of felt purse

Mary at Central Virginia Fiber Mill will have more Hilltop Shetland Yarn ready, including a new sock yarn. And I will have little angora yarn kits ready. A new one will be the French Parasol fingerless glove with beads. I have just finished the new pattern. And of course lots of dyed roving and I just got in a huge lot of Landscapes Dye that I will be bringing to the Shenandoah.

So much happening at Sweet Tree Hill as we look towards Fall. I love Fall. Snuggle weather is on the horizon.

The Occupation of Yarn Farmer

As we slide into another Labor Day weekend, I find myself assessing the job I have chosen for myself, and that is growing, harvesting, spinning, coloring wonderful string lovingly called yarn. I feel it is more than a job, it is a lifestyle and a calling. It holds such an attraction, that I am convinced I am meant to do this. Not that it has been easy. Doing meaningful work is rarely effortless, in fact it is beyond challenging. Problems abound, they confront me at every turn. I treat each one as a lesson that I am meant to learn and an opportunity to achieve. The fact that the universe is throwing me road blocks is a test to see if I am worthy and really committed to this work. And I can say I am even though my kids think I am nuts and though he does not say, my husband probably does too. Another sign I am doing what I am meant to do.

Many people tell me that I am living their dream, that if they did not have other responsibilities and financial constraints, they would love to raise fiber animals. I tell them that I am no different in those constraints. The difference is that I am changing a dream into reality. The reality is not soft and fuzzy, but is muddy boots, building and repairing fences, moving stubborn rams, nursing sick and injured animals, mucking barns, hutches, and paddocks, loading 50 pound bags of feed, stacking 50 pound hay bales. But I have learned to doctor my animals, I have built relationships with them. It is a partnership. They grow the fiber on their backs for me, I care for them. We are coworkers. We both take joy in new births and a beautiful sunny day we can spend together. Many love a scratch along their necks and I am happy to extend the favor. I provide large green pastures for them to feast on, and play on. And I get to watch them with satisfaction at the end of a long day.

The sheep, goats and bunnies give me the gift of their fiber. Then I switch hats from shepherd to artisan as I convert the fiber into roving, yarn and products to sell. I have some help from my friend Mary Kearney who owns a mill in Ruckersville. We co-design the roving, yarn and felt. I will hand process some of the Fiber, especially the angora. I blend, dye and spin. I sew, embroider and knit. My dye stained hands with often dirty fingernails are my hallmarks. As I move along on the Fiber path, I take pleasure in learning more and more skills from generous fiber artisans. Most fiber folks are like that, willing to share and I try to do the same.

One of the hardest parts is making it all work into a viable business. I make it a priority to learn that side of things too. There is money management, my greatest weakness…marketing, product design, festivals to get ready for, computer expertise as in software, social networking and so on. In order to continue, I need to attract lovely customers who are excited about the unique qualities of Shetland yarn, expertly hand dyed roving, hand spun yarn, original knitting patterns and recognize the work and value of these products. And I do have wonderful generous customers who I am grateful for beyond measure.

I end this with a picture of one of my days last week. 6am rising, dashing off to deliver a child to school. Checking in with baby chicks and my 11 rabbits to make sure all have water. Sheep and goats had water topped off the evening before. I spin angora yarn while drinking my morning coffee. Next out to check on rabbits. A dear friend is apprenticing with me and is grooming one of the bunnies. Off to the studio to continue an order for dyed yarn, including steaming, rinsing, skeining, labeling and boxing up. Also I am still typesetting a pattern to include in a little knitting kit that will contain the hand spun angora. After lunch, I notice that rams and goats are milling around the barn. How did they get out? I head out to trick as many as possible into the paddock by the barn. The rams are the hardest. I manage to get hands on two and drag them into a stall. Pecan is the hardest. He goes uncaught. But where is Hickory? He is the 4th ram. I head upstairs in the studio, the best vantage point. I see the answer to both mysteries….how these guys got out and where was Hickory. He has tangled himself in the electric fence….again! I head for the house, my boots and my keys. I jump in the van, the fastest way to get to the back pasture. I bump along in the van and push open the door and hit a full run over to the solar box with the battery to turn off the power. Hickory is still and panting from the effort of his struggle. In my head I am wondering why he would let himself get into this trouble again. I sit on his legs so he will not kick and break a leg and so I can methodically untangle the fencing from around his curling horns. I manage to free him and pull him to his feet, grabbing his brown fleece. He can stand. I lead him to the water, soon he is drinking. He will be ok. I put the fence stakes back in place. I call the hubby to say we have a chore to do putting animals back this evening. I go back to the shop and put in three more hours.

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The Perils of Cora Belle

Each year, it seems we have one lamb that really touches our heart. Last year it was Wally, the orphan lamb who loved to be loved and gave love in return by numerous lamby kisses. This year, it is Cora Belle. She was one of the last ones born and she was the smallest. She has grown a bit but still the smallest. Now we have been in the process of training our guardian dog, Nisa to accept the lambs and not see them as playmates. She has done pretty well except when it came to Cora Belle. I guess because she was the smallest and probably the slowest. Well, during moments when I was not focused the pasture, Nisa decided she wanted to play with this lamb. It happened soon after she was born. I was worried the little lamb was traumatized as she looked a bit dazed, but no physical signs of harm. I gathered her mother, Poppy and her sister Camelia and they continued bonding in the safe confines of a stall.

Cora Belle rebounded and while back in the pasture, she got stronger and participated in lamby games such as follow the leader and relay races across the pasture with her lamb cousins. She was still the smallest, but held her own. Now every time I would to a pasture check, I would always make sure that Cora Belle was in her mother’s care. During these checks, I discovered Cora Belle’s independent streak. Often she would be off exploring on her own. And she would only take note of where the rest of the flock was when her mother would be bellowing frantic calls for her baby. I felt for Poppy. It is hard to parent a child who marches to a different drummer.

Well, after the shearing of the adult sheep and the tagging and vaccinations of the babies, I thought I would try Nisa again. I had put her through training sessions with lambs and she seemed to have gotten it. But again, as soon as my back was turned, Nisa went after her favorite lamb, Cora Belle. This time, more damage occurred. She tore off her ear tag and gave her an abrasion on her thigh. I discovered this during my pasture check. I tried to catch her, but the injury did not effect her ability to run.  I tried for a couple of days with no luck. I was getting worried that an infection might happen, or equally dire, fly strike. Finally today, I noticed she was limping. Ok, this was it, I was going to catch her regardless of hell or high water. I took a look at the sky and noted the very dark clouds on the horizon. Well, we might be getting a bit of hell and high water very soon. So time would be short, I went inside to retrieve my 16 year old  son and member of the Cumberland High School track team. I figured with the limp Cora Belle might be easier to catch. My conclusion was not correct. The limp did not seem to affect her speed. We raced across the pasture, trying to corner her, anticipating her moves. Boy that lamb can change direction on a dime. Despite my burning lungs, it did my heart good she could move this fast. She must not be that bad. But I had to check her up close so I could stop worrying.

We finally had cornered her in a small dead end section of our corral. I still could mot see her injury clearly. At this moment I realized I had lost my glasses during the pursuit. I had taken a spill in the tall grass. Some Ian went to find them. I took the little one in the house to clean her wound. Putting on the found glasses, I saw her injury was larger than I thought. She had a large scab over most of her thigh and it had opened up. I cleaned her leg with peroxide and then put a big dose of iodine on it.

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Ian showing Cora Belle' s wound

I realized that in order to prevent fly strike, I would need to cover the wound. So checking my first aid kit, found large gauze pads left over from my hubby’s broken collar bone recovery ( a story for another time.) Just the right size. And with some semi-expert skill, managed to adhere the gauze to the lamb’s thigh. After a penicillin shot for good measure, little Cora Belle is recuperating in her makeshift hospital, one of the stalls in the barn.

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Cora Belle with her bandage.

Out in the pasture, Poppy is calling for her lost baby. A little baahing answer comes from inside the barn. I wish they could be together, but some healing needs to take place first. I know Cora Belle would appreciate a few prayers thrown her way. A little lamb with her spunk is a treasure.

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Cora Belle and a very concerned shepherd.

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