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Returning to Innisfree

Why Shetland Sheep And Kinder Goats?

brown Shetland sheep
My Shetland ram, Marcus

My first experience with sheep was raising Corriedales for 4-H. I enjoyed 4-H immensely, even though I had the only sheep projects in my club and one of the few (I may have been the only one) with Corriedales at the county fair. Being in junior high and high school, I’m pretty sure I didn’t internalize as much sheep-rearing information as I probably should have, but when I decided to get a few sheep for the farm, I discovered that just about everything I remembered regarding Corriedales was woefully outdated. Yes, they were still a natural white/cream-colored sheep and reasonably friendly. But beyond that, I learned after I brought four of them home that they were no longer the right sheep for what I wanted to do. That had a lot to do with my nostalgia, and nothing to do with the breeder of those sheep.

To my dismay, the breed had been “improved” in the intervening years, was now taller and heavier, had absolutely no personality at all, and did not do well on pasture. Again, the breeder was not to blame for this, and I was so stuck on getting Corriedales (based on my remembrance of them) that I wasn’t seeing the current sheep clearly. Once the sheep were on my farm, I realized that this was not going to work, and set about looking for another breed that would be of a manageable size, do well on pasture/hay without needing much (or ideally, no) grain, and had interesting personalities.

And that’s when Shetlands came to the top of the list. I had considered them before getting the Corriedales, but again, I really wanted the Corries to be what I remembered. When they weren’t, I found that the Shetlands should have been my first choice all along. Everything I read and the several breeders I messaged with all agreed – as heritage sheep that have not been “mucked with” genetically, Shetlands are thrifty, good on just grass and hay (although grain is a good bribery tool!), only grow to about 28” at the withers, and have personality. So I talked with a breeder in the next county and made the arrangements to pick up three ewes and an unrelated ram. In short order, I discovered just how well these pint-sized beasties would fit our plans for the farm. They are friendly, a perfect size for me to work with solo (shearing, hoof trimming, any needed shots/meds), eat just about everything (including honeysuckle – yay!), are easy to train (when they want to be trained...haha!), come in a variety of natural colors, and are just plain interesting to be around.

sheep and goats in pasture
Some of the 2020 lambs mowing the grass for me!

All of the above also applies to the Kinder goats we now have. Before we got any of the sheep, we had some full-size Nubians and Boers – all does, as we didn’t want to breed. They did a great job of clearing out overgrown areas, and made my job of trimming trees and removing deadwood a lot easier. The full-size goats we had were all very friendly, but several of them were used to a grain ration and had a hard time transitioning to a grass-based diet. As they aged and we thought about replacing them, it became harder to find goats that weren’t bred for the show ring or breeding/meat production, so this got me looking to find a goat that would “match” the Shetlands. Enter the Kinders.

According to the website for the  breed association, the first Kinders (pronounced like “kindergarten”) were born in Washington state in 1983 when Nubian does had been bred to a Pygmy buck. They are excellent milkers, and can also be used for meat. The maximum accepted height at the withers for bucks is 28” and 20-26” for does. This matches perfectly with the Shetlands - I had discovered that our remaining full-size goats had started bullying the smaller Shetlands, which was certainly not acceptable.

three Kinder goats in pasture
Three of the Kinder goats. Back to front - Stuck (so named because she kept getting stuck in fences when she was smaller!), Spock (the buck), Joey

I worked with two Kinder breeders to get a buck and an adult doe, who came with her four (yes, four!!) kids, for a total of one buck, four does, and one wether. Like the Shetland sheep, the Kinders are easy for me to work with, are doing great on pasture, and all have their own  unique personalities. I can safely say that none of my animals are dull and boring, although some days, boring would be a nice change!

If you are considering adding sheep or goats to your farm or homestead, check out Shetlands and Kinders. I was able to get stock from registered breeders that are all three hours or less from me, from people who are not just selling an animal, but were genuinely interested in me and what my goals were with the animals. Good breeders won’t just take your money and toss an animal in your trailer, but try their best to help you after the sale as well.

Visit breed association websites and Facebook pages, make contact with several breeders to find your options, read about the experiences other people have had with the breed you are interested in getting, and have a clear idea of the goals you have for these animals. I found out the hard way that the sheep I originally bought were not going to work with the goals I have, but I was able to get sheep and goats that did align with those goals. And that has made everything less stressful and more productive.

What livestock have you added to your farm/homestead? Have you had an “oh no, these aren’t the right animals for me” moment?

A New Style Of Selling

Black wool yarn
Hand-spun Shetland wool yarn (image by the author)

This year has been hard all over. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t been affected by either COVID-19 itself, or the economic fallout of the pandemic. And I’ve been amazed at how creative we have gotten to keep our businesses afloat during this time. My specific example is fiber festivals. I’m holding onto hope that the festival I attend in September (and is the bulk of my income from fiber) will not be canceled, but in the meantime (and thanks to the tireless work by several fiber friends on Facebook), fiber fests have moved online. Some of the “big name” festivals created virtual spaces for their vendors, and two of the festivals I’m involved in have seemingly sprung from nowhere, inviting fiber producers and artists to come together as a community, and salvage what could have been a bleak year for sales.

The first virtual fiber fest is called Wool And Fiber Arts (WAFA for short), and has only been in existence for less than two months! It’s the most viral thing on Facebook that I’ve ever seen – we’re at over 4100 group members when I last checked today. Ellen Z. (the founder) wanted to do something for the fiber community, herself included, since so many festivals were being canceled. The idea for WAFA was born, and less than two weeks after she put the idea out there in Facebook-land, we had a live Facebook sale. Vendors were scheduled on the half-hour for their live video, and it was a beautiful trainwreck! Some of us were not at tech-savvy as others, some didn’t have a reliable internet connection, some had never done a live video; some had lighting/sound issues. But...we brought fiber producers, fiber artists, fiber tool makers, knitters, felters, weavers, spinners, and more together from all over the United States, along with Canada and Australia (there may have been more countries represented). We worked through the technology issues together, had a lovely tutorial from Sarina on how to even DO a live sale, learned from demos, and of course bought lots of fiber goodies! One of the neatest parts to me? Comments from people thanking the WAFA group for doing this, because they live too far from any festival to be able to attend, and they now had a whole pile of contacts for fiber, tools, and more!

WAFA originally started as a sales group but has morphed into an entire community. As the group page states: “Experience the excitement of a fiber festival in the comfort of your own home. Education, guilds, breed organizations, working animals, demonstrations, all followed by a monthly LIVE sale.”

WAFA logo
image used with permission of WAFA

The other virtual festival is through Shepherd’s Talk and is set up as an ongoing sale. There is a virtual magazine that you can click through with fiber-related articles and vendor “booths.” Click on the “booth” and be taken directly to that vendor’s sales site (webstore, Etsy, etc.) to make purchases. Virginia and friends did a fantastic job of putting this magazine together! They decided to make this an ongoing festival until the in-person ones can be held.

Shepherds Talk logo
image used with permission of Shepherds Talk

As disappointing as the festival cancellations have been, for both vendors and attendees, it’s been so cool to be involved in these virtual community sales. And during a time of uncertainty, canceled events, and general anxiety of what the future holds, we “fiber folk” have banded together to help each other, as well as bringing fiber shows to a broader audience, since distance is no longer a deciding factor in attendance.

I welcome you to join the WAFA and Shepherds Talk groups, and happy fiber shopping!

Wool And Fiber Arts (WAFA):

Shepherds Talk Virtual Sheep & Wool Festival:


That’s Not A Pasture! Or Is It?

As I write this today, my “nursery flock” has been given a very important task to complete – mow the berms of the driveway. With three adult sheep plus five lambs, and one adult goat and four goatlings, this should only take two or three days. There are only about 12-18 inches on each side between the driveway and the fences, and it’s about 100 feet long. Doesn’t seem like a big enough area to even bother putting them in, and I’ll still have to do some trimming of the greenery that they didn’t eat (mostly the stemmy, overgrown grasses, and a bit of stinging nettle). What’s the point, then?

For one, it’s super easy for me to block off this section of driveway with a 16’ cattle panel on each end. I clip the panel to the fence on each side and boom! Instant pasture! I just make sure to schedule “driveway eating day” on a day I know we’re not expecting any deliveries – it’s very confusing to the mail lady and other delivery services when there’s a cattle panel with orange flagging tape blocking their way! If I need to leave the farm for some reason, I can always cut through one of the yards. And it’s not an imperative that the driveway berms be eaten down quickly, so I can open up one of the pedestrian gates that you see in the pictures and lead the flock into one of those pastures. The top gate leads to a “regular” pasture, and the bottom gate goes into our front yard. We fenced in the yard for the dog to have a place to run around, but it’s a fairly large yard, and I really don’t like mowing, so it doubles as a pasture. The dog also has a “back yard,” so she always has outside access, even when there are sheep and goats in the front!

sheep and goats grazing driveway
Today's view from my desk - sheep and goats doing the mowing!

Another reason I put them on the driveway? All grass is food! Don’t get me wrong, I do mow areas around the farm, but if it’s possible, I like to have the beasties do what they do best, and I’ll come in after them for any touch-up work that needs done. I don’t have close-mown pastures with nary a weed in sight. My farm is messy, overgrown, weedy, with honeysuckle and other “nuisance” flora. And the flock simply LOVE that stuff. It took a few years of grazing, but I discovered that sheep and goats can kill a thriving honeysuckle bush. You read that right! I thought nothing could kill honeysuckle, and was proven wrong. It just took time. That started my change in mindset about pastures – what the edible stuff should look like, and the footprint of the pasture itself. If an area has a good amount of grass and forage, and I can get fencing around it, it becomes a temporary pasture. I have enough of these areas (and a small enough flock) that I can rotate them through each area several times a year. And each year, I notice the greenery is a little more verdant, a little thicker, and the plants I don’t want growing there (poison hemlock, for example) are a little less noticeable. I’ll have to write about the corral/loafing area next to our barn sometime – from cow-trampled mud and noxious weeds to grassy sheep pasture!

sheep and goats eating grass
Cattle panel across the driveway to create a temporary pasture

I know this system won’t work for everyone, but I encourage you to look at your land with new eyes – what can I temporarily fence in (with electric, netting, panels, etc) for my animals to graze and cut down on my time spent maintaining?

Have you turned a greenspace into a pasture (temporary or permanent)? Was it a success? I’d love to see what you did!

Where's The Hay?

hay feeding area
Looking down into their winter barn - it's nice to be able to throw hay down to them!

One of my most important tasks on the farm is to make sure that my animals have good and appropriate feed. This is relatively simple during the warm months because they are out on pastures. My main chore is to make sure they are moved to another area before they eat everything down to the dirt, but since their main pasture is 15 acres and I have less than two dozen animals, this is rarely an issue – they rotate themselves over the entire area as the summer progresses.

But while they are out eating the green grass, I’m thinking about the coming winter. Frankly, with the way our southwest Ohio winters have been over the last few years, I’m never quite sure what is going to come at us! Last year, they were on grass until December 22. I could have kept them out there longer (they did have shelters, which were used almost exclusively by the goats. The Shetlands were not fazed at all by the colder temperatures!), but we got several inches of snow, making it more difficult for them to paw through to the grass underneath. At that point, I led everyone to the main barn, where they spent the next few months filling their bellies with hay and checking the adjoining pasture for any fresh grass that was brave enough to sprout.

This year, I noticed people starting to get their hay mowed the first week of June. The weather had been just about perfect – chance of rain (as there usually is around here during the late spring/early summer), but nice warm days with some breeze. That got me a bit antsy as to when our hay would be mowed. Instead of us mowing our east hayfield and the “hay guy” mowing the other hay fields, we had decided to have him mow everything. He would be here anyway, and since his equipment is a size bigger than what we have, it would get done a lot faster. But as a custom farmer, we were obviously not the only farm on his schedule, so I not-so-patiently waited.

A string of nice days, no hay mowing. Got word that he might arrive the next afternoon, but it was forecast to rain for the next couple of days. He didn’t, it rained, and now the ground and grass were wet – need to let everything dry out. By this time, I’ve convinced myself there will be a blizzard next week and I don’t have any hay in the barn except a few round bales of two-year-old hay, and my sheep and goats are going to starve (ok, not that last part, but there were only five 4x4 round bales left!).

upright round hay bales
Old hay ready to be fed first when the weather turns cold

I really need to learn some “let it go”...

The grass dried, the hay got mowed, raked, and baled into 4’x5’ round bales. Our wonderful crop farmer even put them in the barn for me while he was moving the rest of the bales to their storage area. It didn’t rain on the drying grass, and it didn’t rain on the finished bales. We didn’t get rain again until after the hay was either in my barn or wrapped for storage. And I was gently reminded that there had been years when we didn’t take first cutting until August, so we are way ahead of the curve this year and I shouldn’t worry.

Deep breath...and some more “let it go”...

Apparently, I’m going to continue to get spun up about things that I may not have control over, then feel rather foolish after the task has been completed and my manufactured crisis is resolved. I knew full well that there was plenty of time to get that hay in the barn, but when I saw “everybody else” getting their hay down, I started churning to get ours done. And this year, since we were having someone else do that work, my mind really started going because I had another variable (his schedule) to include. Need to work on that – there’s too much else around here that needs my attention, plus it doesn’t do any good but get my stress level up. I don’t think any of us need a higher stress level right about now!

pyramid of round hay bales

This year's hay. Those bales are five feet tall and four feet wide!

Time to go grab a beverage, sit on the swing for a bit, and enjoy the sight of the flock eating their way around the pasture—one of my favorite ways to de-stress.

First Heat Wave of the Summer

view from my desk
Partly sunny, hazy, hot, no breeze - welcome to summer!

Summer has arrived in southwest Ohio in a big way. Looking back at the weather data for June, I saw 14 total days of temperatures above 85 degrees F. Anymore, I try not to make too many predictions about what the weather will be like, because when the “official” forecast changes four or more times in 12 hours, I may as well just stick my head out the door for better accuracy!

As I write this, we are on our ninth day of the real temperature being above 85, with the forecast showing at least six more days of this. When you add in the humidity and full sun, it feels pretty brutal out there, especially for this fair-skinned redhead. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a vacation from outside work! But I’ve had heat rash and a mild case of heat exhaustion before, and I’ve discovered over the last few years that sun + heat + humidity = great difficulty breathing. That was scary the first few times it happened, but I now plan accordingly when those three things converge.

So what’s happening on the farm right now?

Morning and evening chores still need done – feed the dogs, let the chickens out/shut the chickens in their coop, feed the barn cats (along with a freeloading raccoon who also likes cat food...), check all the water troughs and mineral buckets, and top them off as needed, collect eggs (although the hens don’t lay much when it’s this hot). I’m brushing all the dogs at least once a day to get their remaining winter undercoat off. I make rounds every 3 hours or so to make sure none of the beasties are showing signs of overheating (all of them have been sensible enough to find a shady place to park themselves during the days, then they roust themselves to eat when evening comes).

basket of dog fur
Egg basket of fur brushed in one session, from one side of my Livestock Guardian Dog, Farley.

As the heat/humidity dictate, I will work for a while on an outdoor project in the morning or evening. Path mowing, fence work, gardening, anything that is considered “mission-critical.” And when the “real feel” is over 100 degrees F, that list is very short!

tumbler for water
This tumbler is working hard. Stay hydrated!

The rest of the time, I spend inside — cleaning, sorting, repairing, and tackling new projects. And hydrating. Lots of water to counteract being outside! It’s also a great time to focus on the fiber business. I have fleeces to prepare for my next Wool and Fiber Arts LIVE sale on Facebook at the end of July, roving to spin into yarn, and skeins of yarn to wash and label for sale. No knitting at the moment (to me, that’s winter work) — it’s all about getting the wool from fleece to yarn.

pile of handspun yarn
Yarns that I have hand spun over the last 3 months. The smallest skein is 80 yards.

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac  we’re in the Dog Days of summer from July 3 to August 11, a period of hot and humid weather here in the Northern Hemisphere. This year, that has certainly been the case. I haven’t looked at the almanac predictions for the rest of this summer – sometimes they are right, sometimes they’re wrong, and sometimes they’re somewhere in between right and wrong. Better for me to focus on the things that need taken care of today.

How’s the weather in your neck of the woods? Any changes to your routine to accommodate the weather?

So Much More Than Just Bread

sourdough starter 

I must not be reading the correct news outlets, because I only recently discovered there has been a resurgence in bread-making, particularly sourdough bread. As someone who has made sourdough bread on and off for years, I think this is fantastic! We’ve found it to be more digestible than store-bought breads (even the fancy breads), as well as better tasting than most. But many of the articles seem to stop there, and not everyone enjoys loaf bread. So what else can you make with that bubbly sourdough starter?

My first sourdough creation after loaf bread was pancakes. These are a staple around the farm now – perfect for egg sandwiches, a quick PB&J snack, or in a breakfast casserole. While the bread dough is rising, I’m cooking a batch of pancakes on the comal. My recipe calls for water, but if I’ve made cheese recently, I will substitute whey. Either one makes delicious pancakes.

sourdough pancakes

The next “not loaf bread” idea was thanks to my friend Jennifer. She has small children, and it became a chore to keep cutting bread for them to eat. Her solution? Don’t make a bread loaf, make ROLLS. I felt such a fool – why didn’t I think of that?! For her, rolls were perfect – the kids could pull off a roll for their snack, no knives needed, and no crumbs to clean off the counter. She uses glass pie plates, but if you have a glass casserole dish in the cupboard, that would work just as well. Make your bread dough as usual, but instead of placing the dough in a loaf pan for the second rise, pinch off pieces, roll into balls, and place in the greased dish. Continue for the second rise and bake as your recipe instructs. They can be made larger for hamburger buns, or smaller for dinner-style rolls. Simple as that!

sourdough rolls

That got me thinking – what else can I make? Enter the internet and a “sourdough (bread item)” search. Holy wild yeast, Batman, a whole new world was opened up to me. Cinnamon bread (I use my regular sourdough bread recipe, stretch it out to a rectangle coat with butter, cinnamon, and sugar, roll up, cut, let rise, bake. Even with a powdered sugar icing, they are not as overly sweet as many store-bought cinnamon rolls are.

sourdough cinnamon rolls

Looking for something dessert-y? Try sourdough gingerbread. Using blackstrap molasses gives this cake a richer flavor. I haven’t gotten to make the recipe I have for sourdough chocolate chip cookies yet, but it’s on the list.

Pretzels, muffins, tortillas, cakes, donuts, naan...the list may be endless! Some articles indicate otherwise, but I’ve found sourdough to be quite forgiving. Forget to pull your starter from the fridge the night before? Feed it in the morning and pop it in an oven with the light on. Lost track of time and didn’t take the dough out of the warm place after 3-4 hours on first rise? My friend Jennifer has left it in the oven for the entire day, and it still made beautiful bread. Mix and match your flours – my favorites are spelt and wheat. When mixing the dough, I use organic white and spelt/wheat in equal amounts for a different flavor (only use white flour when feeding your starter, or else everything after that will taste like the “other” flour!).

Sourdough isn’t scary. It is time-consuming, but in small doses. For regular sourdough breads, my plan of attack is as follows - wake up the starter, go do things. Make the dough for first rise, go do things. Punch down and form the loaf/rolls for second rise, go do things. Turn on the oven for baking, go do things. When it’s finished, you now have fresh bread/rolls for supper.

What has been your experience with sourdough? What have you made besides bread that I need to try?

What Is Your View?

This swing makes me happy - I love the blue of the morning glory flowers

There are several groups that have come into existence on Facebook since the beginning of the year, centered around the theme of “a view from my window.” They ask for members to send a picture of just that – a view from their window, to provide other members with a glimpse into where they are during this world-wide stay-at-home time. Photos reflect many styles of living – near water, in high-rise apartments, rural, urban, suburban, manicured, “lived in,” well-to-do, just getting by, and everything in between. It’s been a fascinating look into how people see themselves and their view, by the choice of window/door they choose to take a picture from, to their text explaining that view. I would guess that many don’t submit a photo because they feel embarrassed because they don’t have a swimming pool, or live next to a nature preserve, or have a view of the sunrise or sunset. And some apologize for their view because they don’t have those things. I find all of the views beautiful because they are new to me – even the more familiar views I saw from Cincinnati and Columbus!

Many folks have included stories with their view – what they are doing while staying at home, who is with them, thoughts about the pandemic, a piece of history regarding their house, along with well-wishes for the people who are reading. At times, the poster will write about their own hopes and fears for the current situation and for what the future might hold, but that they are grateful for this time because they have been able to enjoy their home/family/neighborhood more.

Seeing so many varied views from all over the planet got me thinking about my own views. Each direction holds a different facet that doesn’t tell the whole story of this farm, but when you put them all together, the whole farm can be seen.

The view towards the west, from my front yard

Looking west from the house, it’s a study in how many different greens there can be. Grass, maple trees, mulberries, asters, burdock, some thistle and nettle, the lighter green of the crops, then the darker green of the woods on the other side of the fields. I can only see patches of the fields through the trees right now. The browns of the soil and the tree trunks are present, but the overwhelming sensation is green and growth.

South is dominated by the bank barn, with the garage, smaller barns, and the chicken coops on the periphery, against a backdrop of more green. The electric pole stands tall in the center of the circle of buildings. Chickens wander around pecking at the grasses and looking for bugs, and all of the farm equipment passes this way to get to and from equipment barns and the fields. This is Grand Central Station for the farm.

People and “civilization” are to the east. Our town is pretty quiet, but I can hear the motorcycles and semis on the north/south state route. I’ll catch a whiff of dryer sheets and cookouts (and sometimes the water treatment plant...), and I always look that direction at 10:00am on the second Wednesday of the month when the siren goes off up town (that’s tornado siren test time).

North is the entrance to the farm and another view of the crop ground and pastures. North is also our front yard/pasture/dog run, and home to what has become one of my favorite places to sit and view the farm.

Looking toward the swing from my front porch - Lola also likes being out here!

This poor porch swing had been sitting in barn storage for a long time since our covered back porch is also a project staging area. Not much room to hang a swing! I wasn’t much a fan of the 4x4 treated lumber frames, but finally found a cedar log frame that I liked. After I got it put together correctly (I managed to put the top bar on upside down and had to disassemble things to flip it right way up), then came the big decision on where to put it in the yard. Up against the fence and near the fire pit seemed good, and it was the right decision. The tall bushes behind the swing block the morning sun, making it the perfect spot for morning coffee and gearing up for the day ahead. It does get the afternoon sun, but not for very long (thanks to all those trees to the west!), so I can enjoy a fire and a beverage in the evenings. Plus, our dog can be with us in the yard, and the chickens can’t get in to be nuisances. It is a place for thinking, talking, and relaxing, where I’m surrounded by the place I call home. That makes it the best view to me!

What is your “best view” for relaxing?

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