Saturday, November 30, 2013

holiday chickens

I spent the afternoon freezing my buns off at a tree farm, where the 4-H club had been asked to bring animals for a petting zoo. The farmer gives the club a small donation in exchange, so it's not all livestock altruism, but it is awfully cold. So cold that my fingers haven't quite yet recovered, and this short post will have to do.

I think Christmas chickens are appropriate now that it's after Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Today was my last pick-up from the butcher. We have a huge chest freezer, but it only holds so much. It is amazing how much meat a pig yields in a relatively short time period. So pick-ups require a fair amount of coordination, as I try to drop off as much as possible directly to buyers.

This is what was left after making four deliveries on the way back home! I managed to get it all in the freezer, except for the eight boxes containing sheep skins. They need to defrost so I can deal with them. SO not looking forward to that. It has had me in a crabby mood all day, just thinking about it. I have to run out for salt tomorrow morning, and pray that the skins don't defrost enough for me to have to deal with them tomorrow. If this cold snap keeps up, I may be able to delay the inevitable until others can help me on Thanksgiving day. Because that's how everyone wants to spend a holiday morning. It's a far cry from watching the Macy's Day Parade on the couch, that's for sure.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


It was bitterly, bitterly cold here today. The temperature didn't get much above 30 degrees F, but the wind chill made it feel like it was in the teens. A quick drop from last week's muggy 60 degrees F. We brought the rabbit into the basement last night. He can be hard to catch in his hutch but he practically jumped into Secondo's arms. He's no fool.

So we should have been suspicious when Primo came up with a list of outside chores that the boy crew needed to do today. To be fair, they are all on the responsible side, and he was concerned by the layers of ice this morning. It was suddenly past time to get the heaters into the stock tanks, and I have to give him props for picking up on that by himself.

They bundled up and headed outside around noon (well, Terzo required a little coercion, but Secondo will follow Primo to the ends of the earth without complaint, and then jump off the edge as soon as Primo orders him too). I kept an eye on them, and soon discovered the reason for the enthusiasm.

He had worked out how to use the plow truck for the chores. Primo will do anything to drive this truck.

My husband bought it, a 4x4 F350 with a snow plow attached, last fall when our little tractor started to show its age. We should have been suspicious about the price. Long story short, the truck started fine when the temperature was above 40 degrees. Anything under that and it refused to turn over. This was an obvious problem for a vehicle that was only expected to move when it snowed.

It was a very grim winter around here for my husband, who stewed all. season. long. about the problem. Thank goodness it didn't snow all that much, or else it would have been warmer to live outside in the barn.

Luckily for us, a mechanically-inclined friend figured out the problem this summer (fuel pump) and got the damn thing to run, because at some point it just gave up the ghost altogether no matter what the temperature. It was an expensive barn ornament there for a while. Forget the original deal; anything that doesn't move is an extremely expensive ornament.

End of problem one created problem two. This thing is a teenage country boy's dream, or at least my teenage country boy's dream. It is high. It is powerful. It has a flashing orange light on the top. It is beat up in just the right amount to look cool. And we will not let him drive it to and from school, much to his everlasting frustration.

Hence: the chores. They used it to spool out the extension cords to the heaters and haul water. Too bad we moved hay earlier this week, because they were ready to do that as well, dang it.

And their means of coercion for Terzo? Primo had promised him "a fun surprise."  Turns out, this was it: a chance to ride in the truck.

"Fun" all depends on who's defining it.

At least it got him out of the wind.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

o christmas tree

Finally! Spotted at Macy's this evening: a Christmas tradition I can really get behind.

Giant balls of yarn in Christmas tree form.

It has everything good holiday decorating embodies! Colorfulness, whimsy, uniqueness, a reflection of its creator's sensibilities, and a sense of coziness. Then again, wool always lends the latter touch to any enterprise for which it is chosen.

When I pointed it out to my husband, he responded that we could probably come up with at least two such trees, based upon the amount of yarn already in residence at our house. Needless to say, I ignored the jab and started to calculate how many balls of red heart and styrofoam balls it would take to execute. As awesome as that tree is, there is no way my stash would be used for such a purpose.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


My husband and I finally had a solid hour of time at home to get some much-needed chores done, which involved a whole lot of moving from here to there. We have given up on getting help from the boys. Their schedules are beyond packed with school, sports and socialization. The only reason we see them at this point is that they need to eat, and we insist that they do so with us at least once per day. It's not malicious on their part, just the state of their universes at the moment.

First up: get more hay to the back shed.

Yep, there's me, my shadow, and my trusty iphone.

Thirty bales: check. We won't quite make it to Christmas, but we will be close.

Second: pull the rams out of their fields.

There we are again.

Frustrated rams: check. They were none too happy with us.

Third: Put all the girls, bred ewes and ewe lambs, back together in one of the large pastures.

Done. The bred ewes weren't too happy, either, and spent quite a while sorting out the pecking order all over again. You can see them aaaallllll  the way in the back. Not like them to ignore a grain bucket like that. It must have been quite the discussion.

The closest I could zoom in; 
I didn't have time to walk back because we were still sorting out the rams.

I am not sure who prevailed, but my money is on our leader ewe Kevyn. She usually comes out on top. They were so busy fussing that they ignored the ewe lambs Marigold and Molly and their breakfast bucket of grain, used to lure them to the back pasture.

Fourth: Get the big boys reacquainted. This is always a tricky business.

The two of them are so mellow, and get along so well, that we contemplated just tossing them back into the other big field and letting them work it out. But the potential for harm is so great, with each one smelling like the ewes that he has just been with, that we decided to play it safe (mostly so I can sleep tonight) and put them in the sydell pen together.

Remember this pen? It is the same one that we use in the back of our truck to transport sheep. We get a ton of use out of it!

The close proximity means that they will smell like each other, and not a bunch of tantalizing ewes, in no time whatsoever. They were just pushing against each other when we first put them in; by the afternoon, they were more or less resigned to being together.

Tomorrow: our last shuffle. Mercer the ram lamb will go to Robin's to be put in with her ewes; he couldn't leave before now because we didn't have anyone to put his friend Monmouth in with. Sheep cannot be alone, the stress makes them sick. I am still not sure who Monmouth will be going in with. I may put him in the barn with these two, though not in the pen. There is a gated area that he can get into but the bigger rams can't, so he could escape if they are really picking on him. I can't wait until everyone is back together in a month or so. I am still not sure how we will reintroduce Mercer but I will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

peggy squares

The Filamenti daily feed digs up some interesting tidbits every so often. Case in point was the recent article about peggy squares.

Peggy Squares

Motivated by recent news reports about poor women in New Zealand wrapping their babies in tea towels to keep them warm, a call to needles was heard throughout the land. Groups were formed to start producing woolen blankets. It is New Zealand, after all, where sheep significantly outnumber people, though not to the extent previously known; perhaps this decline is one of the reason for babies to be wrapped in cotton tea towels and not fluffy woolen blankets.

Because I am a resident of the wrong hemisphere, I had never heard of "peggy squares." Of course granny squares came to mind, but that isn't even close. A bit of research revealed that peggy squares are knit (not crocheted like their grandmotherly relatives) in garter stitch, i.e. knit every row, to a standard size of six inches, or 15 centimeters, square. These squares are then sewn together into larger blankets.

The name was the product of the Depression years, when a radio reporter noticed a little girl—named, you guessed it, Peggy—making blankets for her dolls out of small knit squares that she would sew together. As if there was any doubt of how much things have changed in the intervening years, little Peggy was four at the time. The radio host was inspired by Peggy's cleverness in using scraps of yarn, and started a campaign for children in the country to knit larger square to be assembled into blankets for the needy. The concept took off to such an extent that a line of yarn was named after young Peggy Huse.

The idea eventually died down, but the reports of babies being wrapped in tea towels sparked a revival. Peggy squares are once again being produced in the thousands, and blankets in the hundreds. It's nice to think that something so small can be transformed into something so large.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

just a little too early

The temperatures took a nosedive last night, and much to my nine-year-old's delight...

Snow flurries this morning. He immediately cued up A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Then tonight, this sunset, from the same vantage point as the first picture; you can see the birdbath in both. Snowflakes are long gone, though it didn't get above 38 degrees F or so with a bitter cutting wind.

I enjoyed wearing layer upon layer of handknits today, including my new gloves, but I am looking forward to slightly warmer temps tomorrow. It is just a tad too early for arctic blasts, not to mention Christmas specials.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

graduated gloves

Two finished objects in as many days! Remember the yarn I dyed in the graduated dyeing class last September?

I was determined not to let the yarn languish in stash for years upon end. Too many good memories were wound up in it! I cast on for gloves on November 12, 2012. Thank goodness for Ravelry, keeping track of all these details for me. The pattern, Treads, is divided into four distinct sections, so I thought it would be a good match for the four colors in the yarn.

It took a bit of manipulation at points, because the transitions between colors in the yarn didn't necessarily match up to the pattern stitch changes at every point.

When that happened, I sought out the point at which the color changed to the next one, and used a Russian Join to transition more subtly between the colors. I didn't do as well on the first glove, which is on the right in the photo below, but I was a little more anal about the second one.

I finished one glove with the truncated fingers per the pattern, but my husband questioned why I was making yet another pair of fingerless gloves. He was right! (But don't tell him I said that...) Enough of the lightest color was left to make full fingers, but at this point I put the gloves away. They marinated for almost a year. I stumbled upon the project bag while I was cleaning out my work room, and the coinciding change in the weather convinced me to pick up the project again.

Extending the pattern to make full fingers is easy enough, because the pattern already spells out how to form the base of the fingers. Just keep knitting until the tube is about a quarter inch shorter than your finger. The first decrease is roughly k1 k2tog around (don't worry if the stitch count doesn't work out exactly), then knit a plain row, then k2tog all the way around. You can do another row of k2tog if you want to make more of a point, or just thread the yarn through the remaining stitches and draw it tight.

My final decision was how to finish the thumbs. Green like the palm? Orange like the section next to where the thumbs would be? Tan like the fingers? I finally settled on green, because I thought it made the smoothest transition from the green yarn of the thumb gusset.

I highly recommend this pattern, which is very well written and comprehensive especially for a free pattern. The transitions between stitch patterns make it an interesting knit, and I loved learning how to knit a latvian braid, which forms the borders for the linen pattern stitch. That will definitely be a technique I use again.

Shout out to my buddy Terzo, who took these lovely pictures. My former photographer, Secondo, was out at the mall with his girlfriend. Time marches on... I figure I have about five more years of Terzo helping me out, then it's up to the dog to figure out how to press the photo button.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

eau de nil

I love the BBC series "Call the Midwife" beyond all reason. My absolutely favorite character is Chummy, a tall, awkward midwife played to perfection by actress Miranda Hart. When she first arrives at the convent, she is greeted by the taciturn Sister Evangeline, who takes an instant dislike to her:
Sister Evangelina: Ah, Camilla Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne?
Chummy Browne: I generally answer to "Chummy". My pa used to say "Long dogs need short names".
Sister Evangelina: Follow me. And mind your head. I understand you qualified by a whisker, Nurse Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne.
Chummy Browne: I *did* pass. It was a bit of a scrape. Before that I was nursing for five years.
Sister Evangelina: And are all your dresses pink?
Chummy Browne: I do have another - in eau-de-nil.
Sister Evangelina: [ironically] I bet you look a picture in *that* too.
I immediately had to look up the color (colour?) eau-de-nil, which I suspect is more of a British term. It turns out to be a lovely green, derived from the influence of Art Nouveau colors in the late 19th century.

So imagine my happiness two days ago when I pulled out some stash yarn, a mill end bought on clearance years ago, and realized that I was knitting a sprout baby hat in what can only be described as eau-de-nil!

I finished it up today, for the shower tonight of course. The shower request had been for diapers in size 1, 2 or 3—no registry details given. I also had two hemmed flannel swaddling blankets, one of my most popular baby shower gifts of all time. Super simple to make, too. Just purchase flannel in a length big enough to make a perfect square, usually 42" or whatever the width of the fabric is. Wash the fabric in a light detergent, then trim up the edges. A rolled hem finishes the sides nicely and produces a blanket big enough to make swaddling a snap when it is folded into a triangle. Sometimes I add a crocheted edge, but it isn't necessary. Plus, did I mention the shower was tonight?

I was unsure how to package everything aside from tossing it all into a large gift bag. Packaging is not my strong suit. Luckily my husband's stepmother was visiting, and she came up with a brilliant idea!

I wrapped the diaper packages in the blankets and secured them with safety pins. Diaper pins would have been even cuter but did I mention that the shower was tonight?

A bit of net ribbon I had purchased on clearance goodness-knows-when served to tie everything together. Ribbon stashes are almost as useful as yarn stashes.

Amazingly enough I had remembered to buy a card yesterday. Done, with the eau-de-nil hat proudly on display on the top, with minutes to spare. A bit of a scrape, but I *did* make it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

time to rest

Daylight savings has hit me right between the eyes this year. The only one more affected has been the dog, who starts begging for his supper before Terzo even gets off the school bus. I am patting myself on the back tonight that it is 8:30 pm and I am still awake, though barely.

It has been a week of sea change on the farm, as I made our annual trip to the butcher yesterday. It is hard to explain the mixed emotions to anyone who doesn't do this. On one hand, I am really proud of the healthy meat we put on the trailer to nourish friends, family, and strangers alike. It takes a lot of hard work and care to shepherd—literally—them through their lives. On the other hand, it is never easy to make life or death decisions about any living creature. The paradox of working so hard to keep them alive for a final end is not lost on anyone who is in this line of work.

Our entire farm feels like it is exhaling, however, a sigh of relief that the pressure put on our land by the rapidly growing animals has been eased. We went from 23 to 13 sheep in our flock in the space of a few hours. Feeding and haying and watering 23 animals, split into four different groups for breeding and non-breeding purposes, is more juggling than we usually engage in, except at lambing time (another time of high stress). I know this number is laughable to many who have flocks numbering in the hundreds or thousands, but we discovered early on that around a dozen sheep is a workable number for us and for our land.

The two rams lambs left behind are slightly confused, and a bit ticked off that they have been forced into coats. Monmouth (hiding in the back) seems especially embarrased by the yellow patch. They don't realize the honor that a jacket bestows: it indicates permanent resident status around here. These two rams are the first ones that we are overwintering, hopefully to be offered for sale next year as yearling rams. The one in the front, Mercer (sorry for the poor photo cropping) is the same ram lamb to the left in the blog header. He has developed into a big beautiful boy that shows a lot of promise. He will be getting a trial run in the breeding department with Robin's Coopworth ewes, next week. I would love to get a ewe lamb out of that match.

He is already showing quite a bit of interest in the idea. Marigold and Molly, the two ewe lambs we are keeping and half-sisters to these boys, are in a nearby pasture. We had let them out into the alleyway between the two fences to get at a bit of fresh grass. Mercer and Monmouth had quite a bit to say to Molly, the little flirt. I ended up locking the girls back into their pasture so I can sleep tonight. I have enough to worry about around here with teenage boys.

Monday, November 4, 2013


My friend Amy messaged me proudly last week. "On my way to work this morning I passed a field full of sheep. All of them had orange butts, and now I know exactly what that means!"

Warms my heart to think that I have done my small part in educating the world on sheep breeding techniques.

Our own rams have been hard at work in the back fields. All of the ewes have been marked.

It was a very chilly (to me) 35 degrees F when I went back to photograph them,
yet they were all laying in the shade to chew their morning cuds.
Wool must be as warm as everyone says it is.

To be really effective and scientific in the whole endeavor, you need to switch the colors in the marking harnesses after 17 days—the length of a ewe's cycle—to see if the ewes are getting rebred. A second breeding may indicate a problem, because a ewe won't allow rebreeding if things went right the first time. A second marking means it didn't take the first time for whatever reason, or the ram isn't fertile enough, or something else didn't go according to plan.

The one with the unmarked rear end is the ram!

Problem is, I didn't remember to order new crayons. We were lucky that my husband managed to find two unused crayons to begin with, because I could have sworn we had only one in the barn. What with races and applications and high school and Halloween and blah blah blah, the need to order replacement ones really slipped my mind, especially because I usually pick them up at Rhineeck. Cue sad violin music here...

Then the obvious (and cost-effective) solution finally dawned on me. One crayon was red, the other was green. All we had to was switch harnesses between the rams. I'll never order four crayons again! But I will spend a few weeks wondering why the obvious solution escaped me for so long.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

memories of green grass

Just a short month ago, we were still able to move the ewes onto fresh grass every week or so, because the grass was still growing.

Perhaps due to the unusually chilly August, however, our grass gave up the ghost sooner than usual this year.

This was their last move. As soon as this was eaten down, they were put back into one of the decimated larger pastures and we started to hay. We usually can hold off on that until the end of October. Ouch! That will be a direct hit on the farm pocketbook.

We found two tiny pockets of greenish grass and moved the last few lambs onto it this morning. They were certainly very appreciative for that bit of green.