June 15, 2015

Emerging Edibles

Ahh, the first veggies of spring! I have no shame in admitting I mostly grow radishes because they are fast and make me feel productive. I mean, I eat them, sure, but the pleasure of eating them is a distant second to that of actually pulling them out of the dirt and saying “look, I made this happen!” Another week and I should be experiencing that joy.

Radish

Meanwhile, all the veggies I am really excited about… tomatoes and peppers… have been chilling in a window for a while.

Seedlings

We got the garden tilled at the beginning of May, and I formed it into these shapely mounds and rows of dirt.

Bare Garden

At last it’s looking green! Although… most of the green you see here is weeds. I mulched with a ton of straw, but weeds are persistent little things.

Garden

Back in my straw bale greenhouse/cold frame, I have the tomato and pepper seedlings hardening off. Time to get them in the ground, I say!

Tomato Seedling

I also have some basil started from seed. I sowed some directly, and it should have been up by now, so this is my backup plan.

Basil

The last couple years I tried growing sweet corn, which was devoured by deer… and pole beans, which were devoured by Japanese beetles. You’d think I would just take the hint, but nope, trying again! This time I am doing a “three sisters” planting. The corn should support the beans and the beans will enrich the corn. The third sister in this group is pumpkin, whose leaves should shade the ground, keeping it cool and stopping weeds from coming up. I have my doubts about the weed control, but we’ll see.

Three Sisters Planting

I had some random arugula seed so that went in near the radishes. I will probably forget about it, then it will bolt and be useless. Maybe the sheep will like it?

Arugula

I had a compost pile going last year with chunks of old manure we dug out of the barn, where I tossed all the rotten and overgrown veggies I couldn’t use. That pile got tilled up with the rest of the garden, and before I knew it, volunteer squash started popping up everywhere. I actually thinned them out quite a bit, but I count eight plants right here.

Squash

They have started making flowers and tiny little squashlets! They are all cross-pollinated, so I am not sure what they will look like. I’m hoping for some really crazy looking veggies that are worthy of the mutant vegetable hashtag over on Instagram.

Squash

What’s not pictured? Some bottle gourds, tomatillos, carrots, cucumbers, and the normal zucchini and summer squash. I hope everything catches up!

June 2, 2015

Spring Shearing 2015

It’s time to get those woolly winter coats off and start growing those summer fleeces! Our shearer is Aimee Leòn from Flying Ewe Shearing and she was great! Very knowledgeable about all kinds of sheep, she works solely with small flocks like mine. We had a great time talking while she worked, and she pointed out a few things that I didn’t know. That’s no surprise… I learn something new any time I talk to someone with more sheep experience than me (which is pretty much anyone with any sheep experience).

Winifred’s fleece came off pretty well; I was expecting most of the fleece today to be tossed in the discard pile. The winter fleeces are not expected to be nearly as nice as the summer ones, when the sheep have been out in the pasture, where they stay relatively clean. The ones shorn today were all a bit matted and tattered, since the sheep spent a lot of the winter in the barn or walking through snow, not to mention snuggling up with their lambs for the last month.

Shearing Icelandic Ewe

In preparation for shearing, the ewes were all brought inside without their lambs, and while they bleated a bit for their babes, they seemed pretty patient. The lambs, on the other hand, were yelling for their moms the entire time! Here are Dany, Raphaela, and Belle waiting their turn. It looks like Raphaela didn’t like waiting for her haircut, so she began scratching her wool off in the past couple days, which is what you see hanging down from her neck.

Icelandic Ewes

The ladies are usually so dignified, I can’t imagine what Dany’s thinking as she’s sitting spread-eagle on the shearing floor!

Shearing Icelandic Ewe

The wool we keep from the winter cut is not really suitable for yarn, as the fibers are shorter and not as strong as those at the end of summer, but it should be usable for felting projects.

A video posted by Laura Walsh (@ellemmwalsh) on

Along with their haircuts, everyone got a pedicure, even Cornelius, who was a little rambunctious. Aimee’s assistant Yolanda helped keep him still while his hooves got a trim.

Hoof Trimming

For comparison, here’s a picture of Dany before she was sheared. As a yearling, she probably had the nicest wool of all our ewes.

Dany Before Shearing

And here is Dany afterwards… it was hard to get a good shot since the sheep were all very hungry (we don’t let them eat for 12 hours prior to shearing, to avoid them making a stinky mess while the shearer is working).

Dany After Shearing

It didn’t take long for Winnie to gather up her lambs post-shearing and find a place to relax in the shade!

Winifred After Shearing

May 29, 2015

Close-up with the Rhododendrons

Almost every day for the last week I have spotted a hummingbird and a yellow swallowtail butterfly flitting around the rhododendrons, but I have yet to catch either on camera. There is, however, an abundance of life among the blossoms, so I set out with my morning coffee to capture some of it.

Rhododendron

Bumble bees are the easiest to spot, and I usually hear them before I see them.

Bumble Bee on Rhododendron

Bee on Rhododendron

There are a number of other bees, both large and small, but most are too quick for me.

Bee on Rhododendron

Bee on Rhododendron

I was not too happy when this wasp sat down next to my coffee, but she didn’t stay long.

Brown Wasp

There are a few spiders hiding out among the flowers.

Spider on Rhododendron

I don’t know what this green bug is; I wonder if it’s responsible for the chewed up leaf it’s sitting on.

Bug on Rhododendron

A few flies periodically stop by, of course, but not for long. I’m sure they find better digs over at the barn.

Fly on Rhododendron

Lots of ants crawling everywhere is no surprise!

Ant on Rhododendron

Last is a silver-spotted skipper, a pretty little butterfly, if a bit plain compared to its showier relatives.

Butterfly on Rhododendron

May 19, 2015

2015 Lamb Update

The lambs are growing up so fast! Here are, from left to right, Raphaela’s twin girls, one of Kara’s boys, and Dany’s daughter. Of the many things I love about Icelandic sheep, the variety in colors and patterns is at the top of the list.

Icelandic Lambs

It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago they were all tiny bundles of wool; now they are bouncing around like giant cotton balls.

Winifred’s two boys are still the smallest of all our lambs.

Icelandic Sheep

Pippin is entranced by them, and will bravely go up to the fence and watch as long as their moms are not nearby.

Icelandic Sheep

The littlest one I have been supplementing with a bottle just to give him a little added nutrition.

Icelandic Sheep

Winifred does let him nurse, but he’s not as persistent as his brother.

I don’t mind the extra time cuddling with him! 🙂

Icelandic Sheep

The larger of the two used to be very shy, but I think he’s coming around.

Icelandic Sheep

Here you can see the difference in size between the younger and older boys. They are 3 and 4 weeks old in this photo.

Icelandic Sheep

The ram lambs have been playing like this for a few weeks now. I suppose it’s a good sign that they’ll know what to do when the time comes (those that don’t become wethers, that is).

Icelandic Sheep

All of the lambs are now big enough to reach into the 5-gallon water buckets, though they can only drink if the water line is near the top. We do have lower troughs for them, though, not to worry. And of course, they still get plenty of liquid from nursing.

Icelandic Sheep

The lambs will continue to nurse until their moms decide to wean them, which will be around 3 months of age (maybe sooner). Dany, our yearling below, still nursed occasionally at 4, maybe 5 months, when she was nearly the same size as her mother.

Icelandic Sheep

Dany is very protective of her lamb, on top of still being fairly shy around me. But she is doing a great job and her daughter is growing fast.

Icelandic Sheep

Raphaela’s twin ewe lambs are so pretty! The black one is shy and stays close to her mom most of the time, and has proven difficult to photograph well because she is so dark.

Icelandic Sheep

Her sister is more curious and will usually come towards me for a photo op.

Icelandic Sheep

Belle’s twins are pretty as can be, and growing up big and bouncy. Hopefully that will continue and they’ll be large enough to breed this year. If not, we will wait… I look forward to lots of lambs, but keeping them all in good shape is a priority!

Icelandic Sheep

Ophelia’s daughter is the boldest of all the ewe lambs, and is usually the one I can catch and bring to visitors to pet and see up close. She is happy for me to pet and hold her as long as her mom is within eyesight. Her little horns give her such a perky expression!

Icelandic Sheep

May 12, 2015

Goodbye, Rocky

Last week we lost a very special sheep. Two-year-old Rocky was the first that I purchased when we began our flock, and when we settled on Jolly Jumbuck Farm as a name for our place, it was partly because of Rocky, who is the jolly jumbuck (a jumbuck is an Australian term for sheep).

Icelandic Ram

Below is Rocky on day one, his trip to our farm! His horns had to be trimmed because they grew a little close to his face. Not an ideal trait in a sheep, but it is not always completely due to genetics, and the curve of the horns does change over time as they grow, so we were not too worried. We could always trim the horns again if necessary.

Icelandic Ram

You can see here how it affected his peripheral vision. Trimming the horns does not hurt the sheep, incidentally. There is living tissue inside the horn where it is closer to the head, but if we trim the horns at the bottom of the curve, we would not be anywhere near that part. There is no bleeding and no pain, though the rams don’t particularly like being held still.

Icelandic Ram

Though Rocky was timid at first, he quickly became a very friendly ram, never aggressive, who always liked coming up to me for a scratch under the chin.

Icelandic Ram

In January, once breeding was over, Rocky and Cornelius were paired up and sent off to live with the donkeys. They didn’t get along quite as well as they did prior to breeding, and Cornelius turned out to be kind of a bully, chasing Rocky away from the food and harassing him a lot. He never seemed to do any direct damage, but a few times he tossed Rocky onto his side or back so that he couldn’t get up by himself (horns got on the way so he couldn’t turn his head), so we had to go help him up a few times. As a result, Rocky spent a lot of time just avoiding Cornelius, which in the end I think contributed to his death. I don’t want to get into a lot of detail about that, though, because it sends me down a long road of “what ifs” that cannot be changed. Simply put, we learn and move on.

We buried Rocky along the edge of the woods, beside a field that we are renovating into a new pasture this year, where his lambs and future descendants will graze. Not all of the animals will be buried this way when they die, but Rocky was not just any sheep and deserves some special treatment. I planted some white-flowered alyssum over the grave for now, but I plan to add some trees and native perennials later this summer, making this a nice spot to sit and watch the sheep.

The silver lining to this cloud is that Rocky was able to sire six lambs before he left us. Three sets of twins in all variations of black and white. Our first lambs were two big, energetic and fast-growing boys out of Kara, one of which will replace Rocky as a sire in our flock.

Icelandic Lambs

The twin rams out of Winifred are on the small side; the littlest one I am supplementing with a bottle for now. They are friendly little guys and would make excellent wethers and companions to other rams.

Icelandic Lambs

Rocky’s third set of twins were the very last lambs born this year, two ewes out of Raphaela. As the only daughters from Rocky they are extra special, and I have high hopes for them both when we begin milking our flock in coming years.

Icelandic Lambs

 

May 2, 2015

Little Families

Lambing was an amazing success, especially considering it was our first-ever season! We started out our little flock with six ewes and two rams, and have more than doubled it. The final tally is ten lambs: six girls and four boys. All were born without our assistance – we weren’t even there for any of the births – and were healthy and accepted by their mothers (I may have been secretly hoping for one of the lambs to be rejected by its mother so I could have a bottle lamb to take care of in the house, but that is really a lot of work, so I’m happy without).

Without further ado, here are the six mamas and their babies!

First to lamb on April 14 was Kara, who had two little rams waiting for me when I checked the barn in the morning. One black all over, the other with a big white spot on his head. With glee I got out my new scale and weighed them, but was a little concerned that they only weighed 4 and 4.5 pounds each (5 to 7 pounds is a good range. Well, turns out that the scale is labeled in both pounds and kilograms, but the kilos are MUCH more prominent and that’s what I was looking at. So, the next day when I figured this out, I concluded they were 8.75 and 10 pounds. WOW, what a pair of whoppers! Their sire is Rocky.

Icelandic Sheep

Belle lambed later on the same day, a pair of white ewes who weighed (again, after converting from kilos to pounds the next day) 7.5 pounds each. Their sire is Cornelius.

Icelandic Sheep

A few days later, on a very rainy evening of April 19, Ophelia had a pretty little white lamb weighing 8 pounds. Due to previous trouble with twins in the last two years, we were expecting to assist Ophelia in her delivery, but she did just fine on her own! We checked on the sheep, left for dinner and were gone for less than three hours… when we returned this little girl had been cleaned up and was nursing away with no signs of trouble. Her sire is Cornelius.

Icelandic Sheep

We had a few days to wait, and then on April 23, Winifred greeted me in the morning with two more black-and-white ram lambs out of Rocky. These guys were significantly smaller at 5 and 6 pounds, and are still the littlest lambs out of the whole bunch.

Icelandic Sheep

That afternoon, Dany, Ophelia’s daughter who was born last year, had a 6 pound ewe out of Cornelius. It’s her first time being a mom but those instincts are strong, and she has been doing everything exactly right for her little girl.

Icelandic Sheep

Raphaela kept us waiting for two more days but, in the early evening of April 25, delivered her twins: two black and white ewes out of Rocky, weighing 7 and 7.75 pounds. I was ecstatic about these girls – I was crossing my fingers and wishing for spotted ewes to make the flock more colorful, and only had white ones so far. Clearly Raphaela was just saving the best for last!

Icelandic Sheep