Into The Fields

We just moved the sheep onto their summer pasture. The grazing will improve as the days get warmer, but the beginnings of green grass are a welcome sight for our wooly ewes. They will continue to be fed hay and grain until the fields can really sustain them, another 3 weeks or so. Tomorrow is shearing day! Off come their winter coats, their hoofs will be trimmed, and each sheep will get a dose of wormer. Always a big day here at the farm, another task that signifies the coming of spring! If you are a hand spinner looking for a luscious Blueface Leicester fleece to spin, give us a call! I am determined not to keep them all!

The nursery is shaping up….the rows are cleaned and filled with plants for the upcoming season. Some great new additions that we’re really excited about! We open on May 3rd and we are looking forward to seeing customers and talking about gardening!

We hope everyone is enjoying the arrival of warm weather and the promises of a new gardening season. Happy Day to you all!

Battenkill Fiber Mill

For years …as long as I have raised sheep, over twenty five years now, I have been searching for the perfect woolen mill to process some of our fleeces. We always keep a bundle of the newly shorn fleeces here to process ourselves, the rest will often get sent off to be cleaned and carded. This means bags of beautifully cleaned roving returns, ready to spin. The last two years I’ve even sent off several fleeces to have them cleaned, carded, and spun into yarn. So I have both available……skeins of our Blue Face Leicester spun right here with me at the wheel or yarn from our sheep that has been sent over to the Battenkill. Even with any mill spun yarn, I still do all the dyeing of each skein. With a flock of sheep’s fleeces piling up (I can only spin so fast and there is always so much else to do…surprise, surprise, huh?) I decided two years ago to send some of the fleeces off. This allowed me to have more inventory to sell to our yarn customers. Finding the right woolen mill has always been a challenge. For years we’ve had a local mill who did a great job, but they no longer clean fleeces, and because ‘cleaning’ the fleeces is the job that is most helpful, I began looking elsewhere. It’s not easy to find a mill you trust. Being a handspinner and working hard to maintain the quality of our sheep and their fleeces, I don’t want to risk sending them just anywhere. I had one mill years ago lose all of my 1st year lamb fleeces. Not happy, I can only say. Blue Face Leicester tends to have a fairly long staple length (length of the locks), it is quite crimpy, and often contains a fair bit of lanolin. This can gunk up a machine, so carefully washing is important. Some cottage mills are not able (or talented enough) to handle fleeces that are considered extra fine , like Merino or Rambouillet, or they are not able to slow the machines to handle a long stabled fleece…like Blue Face Leicester. Owning and operating a woolen mill is a craft. They need to understand the different wool breeds, they need to be able to assess the fleeces when they come in, and they need to be able to process each order to the customer’s request. There is a lot to pay attention to. So, this is why I am promoting the Battenkill Fiber Mill. They are, by far, the best mill I’ve come across. One of the great things about them is that they strive for accuracy. I get my own fleeces back and the weight of the finished product is always on the high end. They are great communicators, I often send my fleeces with a ( fairly) long list of instructions and thoughts…. the folks at the Battenkill know that they are working with producers that care about their sheep and the end quality of their fleeces, and so they listen. Quality is first and foremost at the Battenkill. I have been so happy to find a mill, one that is not across the country, that I can trust with my fleeces. They really are an excellent mill.
Recently, I received an email from Mary Jeanne who owns and operates the Battenkill Fiber Mill. She sends out a yearly update of things happening at the mill, along with this great video which explains how the mill operates. The best part of the video is learning a little bit about the happy folks who work there. If happy and contented people are doing the job of processing your fleeces, it makes sense that they come back to you reflecting the happy hands that handled them.
Check out the Battenkill’s website, the video is there to click onto……join in with supporting a great little business!


Picture 1802Yipee! I’ve been dyeing wool everyday in preparation for Common Ground Fair weekend. Just as I did last fall, I’ll be heading over to the little village of Thorndike to set up with the teardrop trailer and skeins of freshly dyed yarn. My friend owns a great little antique/garden/print shop right there in the village called Garden Variety, check it out if you’re on your way to the Common Ground Fair. There will be a few of us there with homemade wares……and music playing throughout the day.Picture 1794
There just hasn’t been much time for wool related fun this summer. There’s been plenty of hypertufa building. plenty of studio progress, and PLENTY of gardening ( no complaints, it’s a love as well), but all things fiber related have been simmering on the back burner until lately. So fun to be dipping freshly spun skeins and unspun wool into dye pots. Right now several skeins are out drying under the arbor. Our flock of Blue Face Leicester sheep provide us with plenty of scrumptious wool to dye and spin. I truly enjoy this breed….lovely, long stapled, lustrous and nicely crimped locks of wool. Also, these Blue Face Leicester will gladly get in your lap for some good long back scratches. When we are moving their fence to new pasture, I just let them roam while we get their new area in place, then I call ” Sheep”, and they all come running! Years ago I would move them down to their summer pasture in the early spring just by having them follow me… was two miles down the road! There I’d be, having a leisurely walk with an entire flock waddling along behind me.
So, that’s the sheep and wool news at the moment. If you are heading to the Common Ground Fair consider stopping by Thorndike Village, I’ll be there sipping tea and spinning away! Come join me!Picture 1799


Picture 844Picture 847We truly feel like we are suspended between seasons. Our minds are on all the tasks of April. We are ready to dive right in and get to work, yet we can only tend to the ones that present themselves as the snow slowly melts and as the plants finally have access to the direct and warming light. Full on gardening? Not quite yet. This year it has been a long slow process. We stand by, and then feel such delight when we can finally engage in some seasonal task…like sheep shearing. Real work, something to do other than twiddle our fingers waiting to hit the ground running ( I’m not sure we’re actually ever ‘sitting around twiddling our fingers’, that may be a bit dramatic). But the sheep shearing has to happen. The ewe’s fleeces have grown heavy and shaggy. Despite some still chilly temperatures, I think they are more than ready to shed those long winter coats…..and so are we, by the way! So off they come, each fleece skirted ( which means to remove the unwanted areas around the outside of the fleece which may be heavily soiled) and then wrapped into a sheet, labeled and dated. The fleeces are stored until we can begin sorting through them, deciding which ones will be sold and which ones will be kept, picked over, washed, carded, and then spun into yarn. The sheep seem happy to have less weight to carry around, inside and out! Their lambs find it much easier to find their milk supply without having to tunnel through thick locks of fleece. Imagine having to eat your breakfast with a heavy carpet over your head. Shearing brings about some real freedom for the flock and a day of good solid work for us. Now with that done, we’ll carry on as winter takes it’s leave and spring slowly doles out her request for action. We stand by, ready and waiting.

Another Day Of Seeds And Wool

Picture 827Out in the greenhouse this morning, sowing seeds and dyeing wool. It’s about 70 degrees in the greenhouse and many of the seeded flats are sprouting. Yeah! Outdoors it’s overcast and a bit raw, I think I saw a few snowflakes wafting down from the sky, but I’m ignoring that. Nursery customers are beginning to call to find out when the nursery will be opening ( May 9th!),inquiring about specific plant varieties, and other such matters. The gas stove I often use for dyeing wool is in one corner of the greenhouse, and this makes it very convenient to be simmering a dye pot while I also sow seeds. The last of the 2014 fleeces ( six left, I think) have been kept in the greenhouse over the winter. One by one I take them over to the washing station, give them several soaks, pick them over, and then start the dyeing process. Often I’ll wash the fleeces in thirds, it’s much easier to get a smaller batch of wool really clean this way. During the first week of April we’ll be shearing the entire flock. I’d like to think I can get those few fleeces from last year washed and dyed before the new ones start piling up. We’ll see! This lingering winter has allowed a little more time for finishing up with these kinds of projects. It’s chilly outdoors, the tea kettle is staying hot on the woodstove, it’s a good day for greenhouse warmth, sorting through seed packs, and dyeing wool!Picture 818Picture 822

Sheep Spa

Picture 269Picture 277Once again, it’s shearing time. A bit later this year due to the cold weather. Would you believe that it snowed again last night! No worries, the newly shorn flock were warm and cozy in the barn. Every spring when shearing day arrives, I try and invite some young helpers to come over and be part of the days work. I tease them about helping out with the sheeps annual spa day, ” you know”, I say, ” the sheep get their hair done (shearing) and their nails done (hoof trimming) and are given a little refreshment ” (worming medicine). Picture 276The kids seem to like having a task while the job of shearing is getting done. Sweeping the floor matts between sheep, bundling up the fleeces, helping me to skirt (remove the manure tags and unwanted part of the whole fleece), and we always need a gate keeper to let sheep in or out.Picture 273Picture 278 Of course, the great reward after all the work is done, is being able to climb up into the big (almost) empty hayloft. A long rope hangs from one of the big old barn beams and the kids love swinging off the stored hay bales and out across the loft.
This years fleeces looked great. Long staple length and healthy with nice luster. The health of a flock will often show in fleece quality. Despite the long and very cold winter, our ewes all seemed to fair well. We didn’t breed as many ewes this year, and this allows for more energy to go into fleece production. Today, I will continue to skirt the fleeces and sort them according to quality. A new ram will be arriving late this summer and will join the flock. Every couple of years, rams need to be rotated out and replaced to prevent inbreeding, but also to bring different and favorable qualities to the flock. He’ll help increase numbers and add new genes to the existing flock. We’ll let you know when he arrives. And I think I may have some new young shephards in the neighboorhood who are willing to take on a flock of their own. Picture 281

Spring Shearing

“>Sheep Shearing 0279 EDITAside from the early blooming plants that mark the arrival of spring, our yearly sheep shearing day is another indication that our long winter is over. This year our shearing day fell on a rather cold and blustery morning and the sheep had some adjustment from wearing long woolen coats to spring “crew cuts”. They quickly headed for the nearest hoop house to soak up some penetrating sunshine. I do think they feel some relief having their fleeces shorn and appreciate the lightness after a winter of carrying 5-6 pounds of wooly locks around.

Sheep Shearing 0249 EDITOur sheep shearer, Jeff, arrives early to set up and sharpen his shears. I always have a few extra friends around to help catch sheep, skirt fleeces, and then sort each one and put them into the sheets I use for storing . Everyone has a job and the help is really appreciated. I am always excited to see how each fleece has grown. I know what to expect from the older ewes but checking out the fleece quality of the yearlings is always a delight. Those first year fleeces are always the softess, and I look forward to spinning them into delicious and cozy yarn.

 Sheep Shearing 0234 EDIT Sheep Shearing 0239 EDITJeff begins shearing at our place and then travels to the surrounding sheep farms in the area to finish out his day. He does a great job taking the fleeces off without getting second cuts. Second cuts are small bits of fiber that end up in the shearing if the fleece is cut over more than once. A good shearer gets the entire fleece off in one piece and tries not to go over an area twice, thus avoiding those little bits of ” fluff” that handspinners don’t like. We love having Jeff because he is so conscientious about the finished product. It makes a difference.

Sheep Shearing 0378 EDITSo, twelve fleeces later, all rolled into old bed sheets, the task of washing, picking, and carding awaits. Of course, much of the fiber will be offered  for sale ….either in raw form or in roving and some dyed, ready to spin. Folks intersted in Blue Face Leicester wool or yarn can always contact us by email. Once the nursery is open, we have baskets of fiber available for sale and this year we will offer a few kits, containing handspun yarn, needles, and a scarf pattern.

As our spring and summer tasks increase, we look forward to the return of green grass and the next sheep chore…..moving the flock to their summer pasture.

Just a note……… our friend and neighbor Megan Marsanskis came to help this year with shearing. She actually took the photographs ( aside from helping to wrestle sheep when needed) of the event. Megan is working on a photography project documenting rural living  in Waldo County. She has been traveling around the area taking pictures of people who continue to practice the traditions and skills of rural life.  It is fortunate that here in Waldo County, we are rich in examples . I can’t wait to see her finished work!