I am at a place where the farm kind of runs me. If I am not taking care of animals, working on products, getting ready for a festival….I am trying to earn extra money for the farm while working as a virtual corporate travel agent…while sitting in my farm house. Yes, I have found the perfect job for a farmer…an off the farm job, but I do not have to leave it to do the work. Technology allows me to talk to my clients from virtually all over the world and I still have view of my sheep while doing it. For instance, I spoke with a gentleman in China, coming to Newark from Shanghai. The company I work for books travel for many corporations and businesses. They route calls to me via the computer and I use the company’s software to access the traveler’s profile and book flights, cars, hotels and such. But also we use an airline system to go into a reservation and perform exchanges as well. It helped that I learned the formats and codes needed to work in that system while a travel agent for American Express some 20 years ago. Anyway..still there was a learning curve and now that I have been with the company a year..feel I have good grasp of the job now.
As you can see, life is busy. My focus of late has shifted a bit regarding my processing. I love the results I have been getting from the mill…but creativity in creating roving and yarn is limited…and the cost of any mill processing is not in line with a farmer trying then to sell the yarn produced. The numbers simply do not work. The only entity making any money is the mill…because once a farmer works in the cost of that processing as well as growing the wool itself, he or she would have to price yarn and roving far above what the market could bare to make any money. One day perhaps, mills will realize this…but now..for me…I am processing the fleeces myself, the ones that spinners have not purchased. And to be honest, while it is slow work, I love it..and have been able to experiment with blends and dyeing in the fleece. And what I am able to produce is one of a kind artisan type work. I have blended batts with silk and angora and mohair…and some lovely hand spun yarn.
Oh…big news..a new acquisition…are you ready? Ok then…it is an antique sock machine. I have been seeking and studying and researching like crazy for three years…and finally was able to get one. They are pricey…but managed to sock away (haha…you see what I did there?) a bit of money. So now I just received it from Quebec. And the sock machine and I are bonding. I have learned to do cuffs and am now working on heels. I hope to get good and produce Sweet Tree Hill Farm socks in the near future
Some other news…I follow Shetland News…and Shetland Wool Week will be in September…some day I will attend…another thing I am saving for. In the mean time, I share with you the information and perhaps you can go in my place. There will be lots of neat classes and a tour of the islands….oh I so want to go…sigh.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Everything on a farm, if you want a farm that actually functions as a farm, needs to earn their keep, provide a service or a product. I am reminded of this as I gather my receipts and prepare my taxes. I evaluate what and why I raise things. Of course the sheep are the central piece. They provide wool for yarn, felting and roving. And the animals themselves can be sold. They also reduce the need to mow. Goats also provide fluff and they are great for clearing new pastures. Even the chickens, though I don’t raise enough of them for selling eggs, do provide my breakfast, they keep the insect population down, they eat kitchen scraps and provide entertainment. But what about the bunnies?
When I bought my first angora rabbit, my intention was to have a small animal that would provide fiber for my own spinning. And every three months, I would harvest quite a bit from the one rabbit. But as I began to grow my farm, rabbits became a key ingredient. I began raising a variety of natural colors, the different grays were my favorite. Also, I began breeding a French/English combo for the ideal fluff to guard hair ratio for lovely spinning. The fiber is used to blend with wool in some of my batts. But my recent discovery is to blend the fiber with dyed silk noil to produce a textured natural colored yarn with pops of color and texture. I sell the yarn, but also the blended fiber in the form of rolags for spinners.
At the moment though, I am spinning some the of angora/silk noil combo yarn for kits to create a lovely lace shawl. (Look for the kits at the Powhatan Fiber fest at the end of this month and soon on my Etsy site.)
Now one added benefit from raising a few rabbits on a farm, and that is the poop. The poop is collected from under the hutches and composted. It is then spread in my vegetable and flower gardens. Last year, in a small plot, I produced more tomatoes than ever. I had lots for salads, pasta and canning my famous stewed tomatoes and peppers. Last week I even traded the poop for help with cleaning the barn.
This year we decided to breed an English fawn buck to a French/English blue doe. We had our challenges, but we are enjoying watching our 4 surviving little babies. Each is a different color, we have a black, chocolate, lilac and blue. They are four weeks old and are starting to eat solid food in the form of hay and rabbit pellets. We might sell the black as I have three already. I handle them daily to get them used to human touch as angoras need frequent grooming. When I visit the babies, they reward me with lots of little kisses as they explore my fingers. I love the daily doses of cuteness. Wish I could bottle that commodity!
This year, I am determined to do some research spinning. That is to explore different breeds of sheep and create some lovely knitwear. There is this great book by Sue Blacker called Pure Wool. In there is this lovely study of Gotland wool and this comfy sweater pattern. I yearn for that sweater and I happen to have a Gotland Fleece. I ordered it a year ago to experiment with and the time is now. I had my doubts about it but after looking at it again, I realize I have a real find. When the frosty black locks a tee teases open, they are lovely and so soft. So I am off and running. Stay tuned for progress. And I have several more fleeces in the wings. It will be a fun year!