July 24, 2015

Summer Sheep Update

It has been nearly a year since our sheep came home, and I love them more every day! Here is Storm, one of Raphaela’s lambs from this April.

Icelandic Sheep

And her twin sister, Rhapsody.

Icelandic Sheep

It’s so hard to get photos of the lambs from a moderate distance… they are either very far away or too close up! But I will keep trying. Below are (left to right) Ramona, Tank, and Dozer.

Icelandic Sheep

Belle and Raphaela are recovering well from their neck wounds. They look a little bruised here, but the discoloration is only from the treatments sprayed on the wounds.

Icelandic Sheep

If you’ve been following the state of my garden, well, the deer finally found the corn. So the damaged stalks got tossed into the pasture, which the sheep loved, of course! Cornelius was a bit greedy and got most of it.

Icelandic Sheep

Pippin is always interested in the sheep, though usually from a safe distance. Cornelius, likewise, is interested in Pippin. Given the chance, he’ll head-butt him, though, so they stay on opposite sides of the fence.

Icelandic Sheep

Royal, on the other hand, is a bit less of a threat and Pippin gets to be a little closer if he wants.

Icelandic Sheep

Speaking of getting close, here is Fleur, one of Belle’s daughters. She is such a beauty! Sadly we lost her twin, Maeva, so we now have 14 sheep in total.

Icelandic Sheep

Family portrait: Fleur again on the right, with her dam and sire, Belle and Cornelius.

Icelandic Sheep

July 21, 2015

Getting on in the Garden

The garden is bountiful, and I have an abundance of summer squash!

Squash harvest

I thinned the carrots and got an early treat, though these little ones were pretty bitter. I am hoping the full-size ones later in the season will taste better. The mottled green-and-yellow thing is pretty; must be a cross between zucchini and yellow straight-neck summer squash.


The tomato plants are growing really well, though it has been very rainy and I’m worried that will have an adverse effect once they set fruit.

Tomato flower

We do have cherry tomatoes developing!

Green cherry tomato

I started a few cabbages from seed, which I was not very confident about, but they seem to be doing okay so far.


The sweet corn is starting to tassel, and the pole beans are climbing the stalks and flowering as well.

Corn and beans

Tomatillos are doing awesome, as expected, with dozens of little yellow flowers everywhere.

Tomatillo flower

With the cooler and rainier weather I planted more radishes, which is not usually something you’d do in July. Worst case, though, is that I’ll wind up with some really spicy radishes!

Radish sprouts

July 11, 2015

Trouble with Raphaela

Warning: photos in this post contain blood and open wounds.

This is Raphaela, mother of two ewe lambs (photo taken two weeks ago, she has a belly full of hay and is NOT pregnant despite her roly-poly body).

Icelandic Ewe

Two days ago, Raphaela somehow acquired a nasty puncture wound in her neck. I say “acquired” because we really aren’t sure what happened. I discovered her when I went out to check on the sheep just before dark. Typically, when I step into the pasture, all of the sheep crowd around to be first in line if I have treats. That’s what happened this time, but Raphaela wasn’t among them. She usually hangs back anyway… she has never warmed to me the way most of the others have, and is always the most difficult to catch when it is time for hands-on treatment. That’s ok, she’s allowed to be shy.

I noticed her stance was all wrong, though… she had her legs spread wide, her head lowered. Normally she has her head up, eyeing me with an “I’m-ready-to-run-if-you-come-near-me” look. This was more of a “I’m-not-moving-a-muscle-if-I-can-help-it” sort of expression. When I walked around to her other side, I was totally horrified to see the entire side of her neck was bloody. My immediate assumption was it was a coyote or dog attack.

Bloody Wound

After carefully checking her out, I determined she wasn’t bleeding heavily and began slowly herding her toward the barn. She was walking steadily, which was a relief. Her two lambs followed along, and I was able to close them in a stall together. Soon the vet was on her way and I began preparing things like water and hay to keep busy while I waited.

Raphaela was fully in shock at this point, so she wasn’t moving around too much – yet. I held her head while Dr. Kat began shaving the wool on her neck (she was shorn a month ago, so it was still pretty short to begin with) and cleaned up the wound. It was an inch or more in diameter, with muscle torn in several places, and was deep enough that she could feel Raphaela’s vertebrae when she put a finger in to check the damage.

Puncture Wound

After doing a bit of puzzle-piecing to figure out what flaps needed to go where, Dr. Kat stitched the muscle back together. Normally a puncture would be left open to heal, rather than closed, but because this one went to the bone she decided to put in a drain and close the wound. The picture below is blurry, but you can see the three knotted sutures in a vertical line. The yellow plastic is the drain – Dr. Kat made two small incisions in Raphaela’s skin near the wound and threaded the surgical plastic through, which will help keep the wound semi-open and allow fluid to drain out. The ends are tied just to keep it in place and out of the way.

Sutured Wound

Once Raphaela was all put back together, Dr. Kat dressed the wound with disinfectant (that’s the blue stuff) and a wound sealant (the silver stuff).

Wound Dressing

After the major work was done, we checked Raphaela over and treated a few more places on her back and sides that had gotten scraped up. Yellow iodine, blue disinfectant, silver sealant, and of course red blood… this girl was turning into a rainbow!

Sheep Wounds

The last thing to do was to load her up with antibiotics to keep her in good shape while she heals. I brought out a big bucket of warm water and molasses for her to drink (it’s like the ovine version of getting ice cream when you’re sick), then it was a matter of crossing our fingers and going to bed.

Morning came and I was ecstatic that Raphaela was still with us! Stress can be an unpredictable slayer of sheep – I have heard of them dropping dead after something as routine as shearing, so who knows what effect trauma like this would have? But 24 hours later, Raphaela was still doing all right. Her neck was swollen, but her appetite was healthy, and I heard her baaing to her lambs as I was walking into the barn.

Wounded Ewe

Since she was stuck in a stall (for her own good!) with only hay to eat, I went out in the mornings and hand-picked a trug full of alfalfa, clover, dandelions, plantain, and grass.

Ewe Eating

48 hours later she still appears to be doing well. I let her out with her lambs for a half hour or so into a paddock that has not been grazed, so there was lots of long grass and weeds for her to eat.


A silver lining to this whole ordeal is that I’ve been able to get a lot friendlier with Raphaela’s lambs. Storm, the lighter gray one, eats out of my hand, eagerly comes up to me for scratches under her chest, and allows me to pet her on her back.

Icelandic Ewe Lamb

Rhapsody is still a bit timid, but will nose around in my palm for treats and does not immediately jump away anymore when I touch her. I count that as a success!

Icelandic Ewe Lamb

So what happened to Raphaela? Could be an animal attack. The wounds on her back and bruising around both sides of her throat certainly make sense. The puncture wound itself does not seem like a bite, however. Additionally, I had briefly checked on the flock about two hours before I found Raphaela, and had been home in the meantime, but I didn’t hear any unusual noises (if nothing else, the donkeys tend to bray whenever anything shows up, whether it’s a person or an animal). It’s possible Raphaela got caught around the neck somehow and panicked; thrashing about would have done a lot of damage. I wonder if she somehow got her horns tangled with another ewe. That’s a grim thought to ponder. Either way, we didn’t find any clues to help us out. The fencing is all intact, so it doesn’t seem like she got caught on that. None of the sheep appeared to have bloody horns. It was dark by the time we finished taking care of Raphaela, and it rained overnight, so any blood in the pasture (which could have at least indicated where she was injured) would have been washed away.

It is a mystery to us, but certainly a learning experience. I am thankful that we were able to help her so quickly; she is not out of the woods yet, as she still has a bit of a fight ahead of her while she heals. She’s got a whole team cheering for her though, and Dr. Kat has proclaimed: “I’ve decided Icelandic sheep are tough wee buggers!”

Update 7/20/2015:

Three days after Raphaela was injured, around 5 p.m., Justin came running up to the house to let me know that another ewe looked hurt, in the same way. It was Belle, who didn’t look quite as bad as Raphaela did, but definitely a problem. I herded her into the barn with her lambs and called the on-call vet, Dr. Dansby.

Wounded Ewe

When Dr. Dansby arrived, she sedated Belle and we brought her outside where light was better. She shaved the area around the wound and cleaned it up, letting me take a picture before she began to stitch her up.

Wounded Ewe

Poor Belle’s tail had also been crushed, possibly broken, and she had a number of scrapes on her backside.

Wounded Ewe

She got the blue-and-silver treatment and was back in the barn with her lambs before long.

Wounded Ewe

At this point we are confident that it was one of the donkeys. After reaching out to the online community of Icelandic sheep breeders that I belong to, I was told a number of similar stories about donkeys and horses shaking lambs, ewes, even calves by their necks. One related that she had mysteriously lost a lamb to an injury like this and, like me, assumed it was a coyote or barbed wire, but several days later caught a guard donkey in the act of shaking another sheep by the neck.

Lest you think Daisy and Delilah have somehow acquired a taste for lamb, this behavior is not totally unnatural for donkeys – it is how they would deal with a threat such as a coyote or dog (assuming they didn’t chase it off first). Somehow the sheep became a threat, though we will probably never really know why, after almost a year without incident, the situation changed. Maybe the excessively hot and rainy summer caused them to be more agitated than usual. Maybe the sheep bumped up against them one too many times. Maybe the donkeys were coming into heat and the hormones made them a little wacky. Maybe they had accepted the original flock but the arrival of lambs in the group was just too overwhelming.

Daisy and Delilah have now been moved to their own paddock, where they still have fresh greens to eat, plenty of hay and water, and no annoying little animals underhoof.

As for Raphaela and Belle, they are on the road to recovery, and rejoined the flock over the last few days!

Icelandic Ewe

Icelandic Ewe

July 6, 2015

Summer Garden

Things are shaping up well in the garden!

Veggie garden

Pippin is usually pretty content to hang out while I work, as long as he’s got a perch so he can see what’s going on.

Pippin on a chair

A quarter of the garden was dedicated to sweet corn, which I planted with pole beans and miniature pumpkins in the “three sisters” style.


The corn is growing beautifully; I only hope the deer don’t discover it. So far their tracks have not been anywhere near the garden, but I’m sure they will show up eventually.


I have a huge amount of summer squash of different types, and it should be enough to compensate for all the bugs that are going to show up. Like the potato beetles in the flower here…

Squash flower

… and the squash beetles who have already found the plants and began laying eggs.

Squash beetle eggs

A lot of my summer squash is growing out of the compost heap, so the varieties are cross-pollinated hybrids of straight-neck, patty pan, and zucchini, resulting in soem odd shapes and colors.

Summer squash

I did get a few plants in from seed so I’ll be guaranteed some regular zucchini!


I’m trying a new kind of trellis for the tomatoes, using bamboo sticks. I am not sure they’ll be strong enough, and I may need to adjust later in the summer once the plants are larger.

Trellised tomatoes

I remembered to give some support to the tomatillos too… they don’t really need it as far as production goes, but it is so much easier to harvest them later when they are not sprawling everywhere.



I can almost taste the fresh veggies!

June 30, 2015

Watching Grass Grow

It may not seem like it, but by the end of summer, all this grass will be mowed down by our beautiful Icelandic sheep and they’ll be looking for a fresh meal!

Lamb in Pasture

So this spring we started a new pasture to make more room! It’s kind of a miracle it happened, actually: it has been so rainy it’s hard to find a dry day to do anything without risking the tractor being stuck in mud.

The field we planted is about 6 acres, and last year was rented out to a local farmer who grew corn. So last fall, after the corn was harvested, Justin hooked a disk harrow to the tractor and plowed the entire field twice. This broke up the corn stalks and mixed them with the soil so they could break down over the winter.

Once the ground thawed in April, we took soil samples from the field up to Michigan State for analysis. On the submission form you are able to note what crop you are planning to plant, and they send back results that include recommendations for fertilizer based on your plan. Works well for us!

A few weeks later, at the beginning of May, Justin was back on the tractor. After disking one more time, he attached a spring-tooth harrow and went over the field again. This is called dragging, and evens out the big furrows caused by disking.


Once the ground was prepared, we were off to the grain elevator to buy seed and fertilizer. For our pasture, we picked up four 50-pound bags of horse pasture mix and a bag of white clover. The folks at the elevator mixed that in with the fertilizer (urea and potash), and poured it into a spreader that they have available to rent. We towed that home behind the truck, hitched it up to the tractor, and Justin was off again!


Once the seed was spread, the spring-tooth drag was hooked up again to rake the seed into the soil. We followed this with a cultipacker, which is a huge, wide roller that you pull behind the tractor to pack the dirt over the newly planted seed. This entire process, by the way, is called “fitting out a pasture” in farming lingo. That was May 15… all we needed now was rain, and we got plenty.

By June 1 we could see the grass coming up!

Growing Grass

It’s much less impressive when observed at a distance, but there it is.

New Pasture

This next photo was taken on June 20. The grass had really started to thicken… except for a few strips where the seed obviously didn’t get spread very well. To solve that, we borrowed a seed drill from a friend and loaded it up with another bag of horse pasture mix. We didn’t add any clover to it this time, since clover spreads pretty easily and will fill in the gaps later. Using the seed drill plants the grass at a specified depth beneath the surface without having to disturb the tender young grass that is already there. Justin only had to drive the tractor and drill over the bare spots, avoiding the new growth, so it was a quick job.

New Pasture

A week later, now it’s really starting to look like a pasture! The drilled grass seed still has not come up yet, but the clover, which is slower-growing than the grass, is making an appearance.

New Pasture

Our goal is to be able to cut the grass in this pasture this summer and bale it as hay, which we can feed to the animals over the winter. If we get this done early enough in the summer, the grass should grow enough to be able to graze our animals on in the late summer and fall. Before we can do that, of course, we’ll have to put up some fencing. There’s always something to do!

June 19, 2015

Pasture Pastimes

All the animals at our place are together for the summer! Rams, ewes, lambs, donkeys, and goat in one big group.

Pasture Animals

Kara spent a couple weeks walking around on her knees due to an injury, we think. I’m so happy to see her up and about on all four feet now, I don’t even mind those wild eyes of hers anymore!

Icelandic Ewe

Belle’s twin ewe lambs have the prettiest little ringlets in their wool. Their personalities are showing, too. The closer one is friendly and curious, but her sister is shy and usually hangs back.

Icelandic Lambs

Raphaela is standing with one of her ewe lambs here. On the other side is our largest ram lamb (from Kara), who is almost as tall as the other ewes now, and the smallest (from Winifred).

Ewe and Lambs

Where’s Starbuck? Trying to find a better meal than what the pasture provides. The grass (or weeds?) is definitely greener on the other side of that fence.

Goat in Fence

Daisy and Delilah are around here somewhere, too, trying to hide in the tall grass.


Cornelius is checking out his competition. One of Kara’s lambs will replace their father, Rocky, as a breeding ram, but we’re not yet sure which one.

Icelandic Rams

I don’t know about the ewes, but these guys know how to woo me. Who could resist those sugar lips! 🙂

Icelandic Lamb