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!
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.
Chickens water had to be replace two to three times daily
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.
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.
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!
The sun rises on an icy pasture. This is my view as I stumble into my kitchen, hoping my hubby had made coffee before he left. Most mornings he has and this one is no exception. From my kitchen window I take in the fact that winter came overnight and when this happens, I am always in awe of how my little world is transformed. What was a muddy mess the day before, is now winter white. Would that my wardrobe be so transforming.
So I grab my shawl and a winter hat and slip on some boots and head out to capture the splendor and to see how the animals are faring. I love the textures that are revealed. And the air is so crisp. It is one thing to look out of the kitchen window. Quite another to feel the wind on your face and stop feeling your fingers as they struggle to click off a few. Add the crunch of your boots and your frosty breath streaming from your mouth and your body is now wearing winter. So take in my little views, hope you enjoy as much a I do. Afterwards…I still have chores, and dyeing to do. I hope I am feeling the same way.
Most people don’t like Winter for some obvious reasons. It is cold first of all, and the landscape might be perceived as, well, dreary. But farmers, especially this farmer, see things a bit differently. It is the calm time. It is a time for quiet reflection. You see, spending time out doors helps align one with nature’s hints. Everything dies back and takes it easy to gain needed energy for the coming Spring. I feel we all need to do this. Working in high gear all the time does not lend itself well to good production, not to mention stamina.
So take some time to look around. I find beauty in the monochromatic landscape. It is peaceful to look at the bones of the naked trees, and feel the crunch of the dried grasses and leaves. Also, without all the growing vegetation crowding the view, you see space. The landscape is broader and more open.
Now take a breath. Feel the crisp cold air invigorate your nostrils and clear your mind. I like to walk around the pasture with my guardian dog, Nisa. We slowly walk the perimeter and she romps picking up sticks, sniffing interesting smells. I love watching her move with her strong grace. We always stop on the pier over our pond and just stand and look and take in everything, noticing small changes since the last time we were here. I look for the black duck that has become a singular winter resident. I see that the lilipads have all but retreated underwater. It is a beautiful spot.
But all the reflection is not done outdoors. It is also a time to gather indoors and collect garden catalogs, plan for the spring garden. And since little actual gardening is being done, I also work on fiber projects, finding more time to process and spin fiber I have been collecting. I love the creativity and the repetitive nature of simple yet time consuming tasks.
And yet there is important work to be done too. A planning time for two businesses. The wholesale yarn dyeing business of Scarlet Fleece is going through a metamorphosis of sorts in that a new website is in the works and a big project coming up in Spring. So much computer work and pattern planning and so forth is taking place. And the retail business of Sweet Tree Hill Farm. We are in a growing phase and plans for more fencing, a line of products and a spring fiber festival all needs to be planned for.
So a farmer looks to nature for a lesson in time management. For in every season, there is a time to reap and a time to sow. But also a time to plan, dream, prepare and rest. This is winter.