Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Goodbye to January

January is on the way out, the very last day of my favorite month.  January seems so fresh and clean, the start of the new year, with the months stretching out luxuriously behind, all the time in the world.

With the all-too-good weather, I decided to shear all the sheep at the Eames farm, where I take my old girls to retire.  John Sanchez was available, and he and I met and sheared them all.  There is no barn on the property, so I need to choose a time without rain, which as you know, wasn't difficult, more's the pity, and we went to work on a crisp afternoon.

The flock there includes the old girls who I take out of breeding because they are older, and older sheep tend to have the same kind of complications in pregnancy that older human moms do, and those sheep who don't have good mothers.  Lester's mom was one of those.  You may remember Lester, shown here inside with Kassie, my beloved golden who died this fall.  Kassie was the super mom, who always took care of any kind of baby.  When we fostered puppies from Canine Companions for Independence, they always slept with Kassie.

Lester's mom was a first-timer, and she was totally nuts after the birth, and wouldn't let Lester come any way close to her, so in the end, I had to take him away as he wasn't getting anything to eat.  I raised him for a week, and then he went off to a foster mum, Susie, who loves lambs and takes exquisite care of them.  He grew up and now lives with Mary, who will keep him forever high up on Sonoma Mountain.

Marlie deSwart came over to sort wool and we worked for two days, first skirting the fleeces, and then choosing the fleeces to make two blends, one the very popular black tweed, and this year, a brown tweed.  We are on the second year of our new endeavor, Local Pastures Wool, using wool from Windrush Farm and from other small farmers who have just a few sheep and don't know what to do with their wool.

As you can see, there is wool everywhere, an embarrassment of riches.  Shearing time is the harvest time for shepherds, and it is exciting to see all the different fleeces, the colors, from black, to gray, to brown to tan and white.  The smell in the room is a country smell, rich perfume to my nose, a sheep smell, with overtones of sunshine, misty mornings, and grass. Truly time to be grateful for being a farmer.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Rain at Last

The News from Windrush Farm—it rained!

Oh frabjous day, it rained at last, and buckets and buckets of the wet stuff.  My rain gauge was broken last summer by the ever-so-curious buck Elvis, since departed, so I can only judge by the depth of the feed buckets I had to overturn before feeding the pellets this morning to all the hungry, waiting animals.  It looked to be at least three inches, which seems more than generous.  I called my friend Barbara Dornan who lives out the Tomales end of Chileno Valley Road and who is an official rain measurer.  Unfortunately, her rain gauge was fastened to a post that went over in the high winds, after registering one-inch plus.  So, I am sure that I am overestimating the quantity, but I know it sure did rain. What a joy.
The grass seems to vibrate with relief that the thirsty roots can now swell with water and drink in nutrients, and that neon green that comes with well-hydrated plants is starting to almost visually hum.  I couldn’t believe the intense color of the moss on my little brick patio that faces north.  
This rain will wash out the fleeces for the shearing in February, and the pond is definitely filling up.  Tomorrow I will need to go out and pull up the boat, before it floats away.  

Still, the pond needs lots of filling.  You can see in the picture a white pipe that funnels the water into the pond from the gutters on the south side of the barn roof.  In the first very rainy year after I had the pond fixed for leaks, it rained so hard the pipe was covered.   That must have been five years ago, and a feat never repeated. You can just see a depression along the edge of the pond marking the height the pond was last year, so I figure the pond needs to come up at least five feet, and that is quite a lot of rain.  Since the pond has no creek flowing into it, the only time it really fills is when the rain is so hard or so steady and the ground so saturated that run-off fills the ditches we have created to bring water into the pond.

Everyone looks wet, but wool can be totally wet and still work as an insulating force for the animal.  Don’t forget that sheep have an internal temperature of 102F, unlike us poor cold humans with body temperature set at 98.6F, so sheep run at a higher temperature and the wool wet, even wetter, helps keep them warm.  

I went to check on the rams and was delighted to see that they were all getting along together. Yolo seems to miss being with his ladies the most, while the youngsters don't even seem to notice.  

So time to be indoors, cleaning closets, knitting, and reading, at last.  By Valentine's Day, the fruit trees are in bloom, so that doesn't give me much time off.  Especially as I need to prune all the fruit trees, and have on my list setting in bare root plants of strawberries, more asparagus, and some Asian pears, morello cherries, kiwi vines, and some horseradish roots.  There are also summer-blooming bulbs to be planted and the large containers should be repotted. Well for now, let it just continue to rain.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

January Chores

January has brought unusual cold, crisp, cloudless nights, 28 to 31F, and warm balmy days with temperatures rising into the high sixties.  Instead of being indoors during the day, enjoying the patter of rain, spinning or knitting, or even warping an inkle loom,  I am outside working up a sweat digging in the vegetable garden, catching up on chores that could have been done in December but I thought would wait until March.  The sunrises have been spectacular, clear with skies washed with gorgeous pink colors, and although, I have been wishing for thundery and rainy gray, I have grudgingly appreciated these rosy tinted mornings. 

Garlic should have been planted back in November, and I had cleared a raised bed to plant, but I never got back in to finish up.  So, on a warm and sunny January 3, I got out and started setting the cloves of garlic into the prepared bed.  The garlic came from Chester Aaron, an incredible garlic guru and friend who has been searching out garlic for sixty plus years, buying, trading, and importing from acquaintances all over the world.  Unfortunately, my planting maps were lost, so I only know these garlics as his, but with no provenance.  Still, they are delicious, and come June, I hope this planting bed will provide a large enough harvest to last me a year.

 January is the time to take the rams out from their breeding flocks, and to isolate them from their ladies. I don’t want lambs born too late in the spring, as the grass may be dying down as the rain sputters off.  Of course that is the usual pattern in a normal year, who knows about this kooky 2012.  The rams went in about October 26, a bit late for my  breeding program, so I am expecting babies later than usual, about March 26, after a five-month gestation period. Ewes cycle about every 23 days, and some of the ewes may take a couple of cycles to get pregnant.  I expect babies into April, but, I am hoping no later as May is iffy for the grass to hold out as good nutrition for moms and new babies.

Yolo, the Shetland ram was pretty aggressive, and I was concerned that he, with his big horns, might fight with the younger Wensleydale x ram, who although bigger, seemed reluctant to lower his head and charge. 

My practice, when putting two rams together, is to start them in a small space in the barn.  I add some feeders and old tires to clutter up the space so they can’t back off and gain enough traction to damage each other.  Rams, in unfettered spaces, back off and rush at each other with enough force to break one of the warrior's necks.  To add more confusion to the barn mix, I put in the two young Shetland twin boys who had been born late in July—that was a surprise!— and were ready to be separated from their mother. As a first step, I put the two big guys in side-by-side pens so they could get used to each other’s smells and sounds.  Then, I shoved the big Wensleydale in with Yolo, and fed them both some alfalfa.  While they were eating, I put in the two small boys. 
Yolo was not happy, but he couldn’t maneuver well with all the tires and feeders tripping him up in the small space.  I nervously watched from outside the pen until it seemed to be going well, with neither big ram able to wind up enough speed to do the other damage.  However, when I returned to check them after about an hour, Yolo had one of the small rams shoved into a corner and was bashing him vigorously.  I managed to get the little guy out, and he eluded Yolo after that, jumping nimbly back and forth across the feeders and tires to keep out of his father's way.

After another day, penned up and peaceable, I let the whole crew out into a side pasture.  Everyone meandered around, grazing happily with no bashing, so I loaded them up in the truck and took them down to the lower pasture, where they will be guarded by the two big llama boys.
Whew, what a relief! With a fence and a road separating them from the ladies, they should, I hope, stay where they are. I don't have to dance around when I am feeding, watching my back so I don't get rammed by the impatient guys.  Still, I will be checking on them regularly to make sure they don’t break out.