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Returning to Innisfree

An Evolution Of Fence, Part 2

Maker Pipe in centerMaker Pipe at a corner
Maker Pipe connectors

The farm, animal-wise, looks much different today than when we first started – the cattle are gone, the sheep and goats are grazing the large pastures in the summer. We have installed permanent fencing (either cattle panel or stretched fence) in those areas that we are turning into pastures and the areas we want to keep the animals out of, like our permanent hay pasture. But permanent fencing along the creek or around the buildings isn’t practical, and corral panel is expensive. To use what we have already made, the 16’ corral/cattle panels were set up where we may need to take down the barrier for some reason. As with other “temporary” things on a farm, these may become a permanent fixture, but I’d rather have them in use than rusting away behind the barn!

Even using the 10’ corral/cattle panel combo, I can only move about 8-9 of them before my back says enough! Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a 10’ panel that would be sturdy enough to keep sheep and goats contained, was lighter than the corral/cattle panels, and could be used with the corral/cattle panels to make larger pens?

Enter Kickstarter, and a project my husband backed – Maker Pipe. These fittings are great! They can be used as corner pieces or center “T” connectors. Cut some 3/4” EMT conduit, assemble with the fittings, and you now have a frame of whatever size you choose. We chose 10’ to “match” the corral/cattle panels we already had. We cut the EMT into 5’ lengths, connected them with the Maker Pipe connectors, wired sheep fence to that frame, and we could now make as many panels as we wanted.

Being light, these aren’t as sturdy as the corral/cattle panels, so we use them as “pen extenders” – the 10’ corral panels provide corner stability, with 2 or 3 conduit panels between the corral panels. They can be chained or wired together, and also to the corral panels.

**These conduit/sheep fence panels WILL TIP OVER if you put too many of them together, so we only use 2-3 in one run. I may use more when making a pen up against a tree line because the trees/brush/bushes will support them if a goat decides to put hooves on them to reach higher branches**

The finished sheep panel
10’ EMT conduit + sheep fence panels...and a goatling!

We are pretty pleased with how the conduit/sheep fence panels are working out for creating small pastures where we can’t or don’t want to put in permanent fences. I also used them this spring to create lambing jugs in our large barn pens, although I need to install some eyebolts so I can secure the panels better for next lambing season– red poly twine was definitely not the best answer for hooking them together, but it worked for a temporary solution.

Now that we seem to have found a good solution, what have we learned with these panels? Because the conduit panels are so much lighter than their corral panel counterparts, we need to be hyper-aware of where we use them! If there are overhanging branches, the goats will climb the panels and bend the sheep fence. Using more than three conduit panels without a corral panel “corner” leads to instability and possible failure of the fence. If the area permits, you could use t-posts to provide more stability (chain or wire the conduit panels to the t-posts). Extremely uneven ground adds to stability issues, and you’ll need to watch for large gaps under the frames. I’m constantly surprised at how lambs can wiggle through the smallest holes!

This was certainly not a quick process, and it was frustrating to think we had solved the problem, then find out that it wasn’t going to work as well as we thought. But we’ve been able to repurpose the earlier versions of panels, so they aren’t wasted. Oh, I’m sure some are asking why we didn’t use an electric fence or netting. A few of the reasons - we need to keep the livestock guardian dogs contained with the flock, I have horned animals and have seen awful pictures of what happens when an animal gets stuck in netting, and it takes me too long to do the prep work to clear a path for the wires/netting in some of the areas. As with just about everything, your mileage may vary for any animal containment system.

The old saying that “necessity is the mother of invention” holds true here at Innisfree!

What have you invented out of necessity?

Two Days Of Tree Trimming

trimming the leaning pine tree
Leaning/dying pine tree during removal

Trees are wonderful things. They provide shade and food for humans and wildlife, sequester carbon dioxide, filter water, along with more intangible benefits – beauty in every season, and the soothing sound of wind through the leaves. But they have lifespans, and like all living things, require upkeep. With so many trees up near our buildings (and power lines!), we discovered that this was a project much larger than we could handle on our own without a significant investment in equipment. Fortunately, good friends of ours recently had a wonky tree removed from their property and gave us a recommendation for the local company they used. I called, they came to give a quote, and said they would call when they were able to come out.

after the pine tree removed
No more leaning pine tree!

Tuesday mid-afternoon, that call came – can we come tomorrow morning? Sure! Time to make sure all of the driveways were clear for their bucket truck and chipper to get through, and get the rest of the honeysuckle cut down for the goats and sheep to eat - didn’t want them to cut that down and chip it when the sheep and goats love to eat the leaves! Honeysuckle may be invasive and a pain, but it is candy to my flock.

We know that there is a LOT of tree work that needs to be done, but when you have a budget, you have to make choices as to what is the most important and what can wait until later. Now there were specific trees that needed trimmed back from buildings/powerlines, and specific trees that we wanted taken down because they were dead or dying. The man who came to give the quote is an arborist, and trying to keep him on track was a challenge! Yes, I know that all of those maple trees have dead branches that need trimming, but these trees over here are the ones that are completely dead. Yep, that tree should be removed, but this one is leaning over the roof and needs taken out first. I’m not complaining at all, because I know he is a professional and will do the job right. I felt like I had to pull out my “no-nonsense teacher voice” to keep things moving, though. hah!

It took about 11 hours over two days to cut down and chip up everything. They even cut the trunks into firewood size. The total was three trees removed, and four trees trimmed. I have two loads of wood chips piled by the barn, a whole bunch of trunk sections to do something with, and no branches around the powerlines or overhanging the roofs. The price tag wasn’t as much as we were expecting (that’s always good news), and it was completed as quickly as safety allowed.

Overhanging maple tree before trimming.

maple tree after trimming
Maple tree - no longer overhanging the roof.

I know that we will need to cut these old maple trees down eventually, but I’m hoping we breathed a few more years of life into them. The arborist explained that by removing the dead branches, it would prevent the rest of the tree from becoming sick, or at least slow down the rate of decay if there were already “infected” spots. Now that we got the highest priority work done, we can start thinking about the rest of the trees and how we want to keep them trimmed and as healthy as possible. Lesson learned? Don’t put this off! You will have healthier trees to enjoy, and may not have to spend as much money, or at least spread the same amount of money over a longer period of time.

My next task? Order some new trees to plant! What are some trees that have done well for you (we are in zone 6A)?

An Evolution of Fence, Part 1

Corral panel and pedestrian gate
10’ + pedestrian gate + 16’ panels used as a “gate” – we sometimes need to get the tractor into this area, but not often enough to buy and install swinging gates

"Fence" is a tiring word for farmers who raise animals. We are constantly thinking about where to put it, what kind to install, how much it will cost, what it will take to maintain it, and what to do to plug the hole when an animal runs through it or digs under it. Having transitioned from a 20+ head Angus beef cattle herd to a dozen Shetland wool sheep, Kinder goats, and a few all-purpose bush goats, my outlook on fence has changed, although all of those thoughts remain.

No longer does the fence need to withstand the bull, who discovered that barbed wire and field fence was the perfect combination to scratch his chin. It doesn't be tall enough to contain that heifer who thought she was an Olympic gate hurdler. The tallest animal I have now is around 36 inches at the withers. As I cut the honeysuckle and scrub trees to the height of the fence (don't want to cut them out for fear that they are now anchoring the fence better than the old t-posts!), the goats don't feel the need to stand on the wire to stretch out their necks for the highest leaves. And the livestock guardian dogs don't bother the perimeter fences; I just need to keep an eye on any weak spots that they may try to push their noses through.

We have big pastures that are already fenced in, plus some areas that are marginal grazing, but still good enough to keep the sheep and goats happy. I have only so much time and energy to install fencing, and some of those marginal areas aren't conducive to permanent fencing, either with field fence or with cattle panel wired to t-posts. Maybe that area floods, or perhaps we need to get farm equipment through for fieldwork during the year. So what do we do to make those areas grazeable when needed, but open for other uses the rest of the time?

Semi-permanent corral panel fence
 16’ corral panels as semi-permanent fence to keep the animals out of this section of the creek

The first iteration of portable fencing, way back when we first got goats on the farm, was a mobile shelter, built from 2x4s, cattle panel, and heavy-duty caster wheels. This shelter would be surrounded by cattle panel on t-posts, and when it was time to move the goats, we could shut them in, wheel it to the next section, pull up the cattle panel and t-posts, and reset the whole thing. Great idea, not so much in execution. The goats learned there was enough clearance between the frame that the caster wheels were mounted to and the ground that they could just lay down, the shelter would go over them, and they were free to run and eat the daylilies. Back to the drawing board.

For version 2.0, 16' corral panels were purchased, along with several pedestrian gates. For the number of goats we had then, a 32'x32' was adequate, so 7 panels and 2 pedestrian gates were enough to make 2 attached pens. The goats would eat one down, we would open the gate to the other pen for them to eat, then move the panels of the first pen in a leapfrog to the other side of the currently occupied pen. But the space between the tubes was enough that none of our quick-thinking goats and guardian dogs were going to stay put. Cattle panel to the rescue! We wired the cattle panel to the corral panel, set up the pens, and were pleased with our handiwork. Until we needed to move those 16' long panels and discovered precisely how heavy they were. The tractor could be used at times, but when moving them through hilly or wooded areas, nothing but manual labor would get the job done. That was a long, tiring summer, dragging them up and down hills, and around thickets of honeysuckle. Now, those 16’ panels are used as “gates” in places where we don’t need to open and shut them regularly, and also as semi-permanent fence in areas where we might want to take the fence down at some point.

 Ten foot corral panels
10’ corral panels + cattle panel

Version 2.1 used 10' corral panels with cattle panel cut to size and attached. Much easier for one person to move, but used more panels for an equivalent sized pen to the 16' corral panels. We also were expanding the flock to include sheep, so more mouths to feed meant moving the pens more often. Ten-foot panels were much easier to move than the 16' panels, but the frequency we were moving them almost negated that. Plus, cutting the cattle panel to fit the smaller panels was time-consuming!

Next post: Version 3.0 of portable fencing, where we are now, what we learned

All photos by the author

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Flat of seedlings under lights

(Tray of various seedlings under the grow lights - cucumbers, cabbages, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower!)

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t had much of a garden for the last few years. Caregiving, an off-the-farm job, and caring for the livestock took all of my time and energy, plus I have access to a wonderful year-round farmers market and several CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture vegetable boxes) near me. Growing my own food, while very important to me, was not at the top of the list of my things to focus on. I had a few herbs growing in the raised beds for teas, and the already-established “fun flowers” (lilacs, tulips, daffodils, peonies, etc.) did their thing without any assistance from me.

This year, in more ways than one, has been different. The biggest change is being back on the farm full-time. I did enjoy my off-farm job, but now I can focus on my farm and put my energies there, instead of giving the farm my leftovers. I’ve been able to shear all of the sheep myself and on my schedule, instead of hiring it done. My fiber business gets much more of my time now, I’m getting back into bread-making, and for the first time in a long while, I planned out a vegetable garden for the year.

My family had a very large veg garden when I was growing up – plenty of things to eat fresh, and also to can for the winter. When I returned to the farm and started gardening, it was very frustrating, because I was trying to recreate that giant garden. I really only needed about a quarter of the space because I wasn’t trying to feed as many people and didn’t need that quantity of canned food, but that area was the garden, and it all needed to be, well, gardened. It never occurred to me that it was perfectly acceptable to only plant part of that area. Fast-forward through several exhausting and frustrating seasons where there were so...many...weeds..., and so much to harvest, eat, can, freeze, dehydrate. I gave up and decided I just couldn’t garden. It was too much. We moved to container gardening, but still trying to grow mass quantities of vegetables, which ended up being just as frustrating as the large garden, only easier to weed.

Fast-forward to this year. The world is in the state it’s in, I’m in a better place physically and mentally, and it just felt right to garden again. My first task was to plan out what seeds to get – what do we like to eat, and what can be preserved/pickled/fermented. It’s so easy to get caught up in the pretty pictures on the seed packets, but if I’m not going to eat it, why grow it? Seeds, seed potatoes, and onion sets were purchased, and I started the cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, and cauliflower seeds in seed trays inside. The next task was to fence off a 32x32 foot section of the former garden. That way, no matter how many seeds I started, I have a finite area in which to plant. Extra seedlings can be given to friends! Plus, I have potatoes, onions, carrots, and radishes to direct sow – I need to leave space for them! I have 2 raised beds that will be used for overflow and also for my perennial herbs.

Row of onions in garden

(One row of onions planted along the edge of my "in-ground" garden)

Cucumber seedlings in flat

(More cucumbers - we really like pickles!)

As anyone close to me will tell you, I am a creature of habit. If something has been done a certain way, it takes way too long for me to change to a better way of doing things. Gardens don’t have to be a tilled square of earth with straight rows of vegetables. They can be containers large and small, long strips next to a fence, small pots in a sunny window, hydroponic, raised beds, stacked beds, hugelkultur, grow many options! Pick one or mix and match to find what works best for your space. Buy some seeds, plant what you have space for, and share seeds or extra plants with friends. If starting seeds isn’t your thing, go to your local garden center or farm store and buy a few plants of this or that vegetable. Keep a garden journal of the varieties that grow well, or don’t grow well, for you. In my experience, that will save a lot of frustration when it comes to next spring and what you want to grow! Talk with gardeners in your area for their tips and suggestions.

Just don’t put your gardening in a box and think that if you don’t garden a certain way, it’s not a “real” garden. That one tomato plant on the patio and pot of basil on your windowsill is a real garden. Gardening is for everyone, and everyone can be a gardener – grow on!

What’s in your garden this year?

One Farmer’s Library

stack of books on shelf 

We love to read. Our library has everything from classics, herbals, history, art, science, sports, animals, military, cooking, faith, fiber arts, writing, and philosophy, to pulp novels and how-to books. And definitely books about farming. Every time we’ve moved, I’m pretty sure the packing, moving, and unpacking of books has taken longer than the rest of the household goods put together! Homebodies at heart, even with my extroverted tendencies, we just don’t go out much. Once or twice a week, we talk about “going out” for food, but 90% of the time, that ends up being carry-out to eat at home. I take a day to do all the errands, which isn’t much of a social occasion unless I stop by the local coffee shop to do some writing. Well, I guess that isn’t very social either, is it? I do chat with the owner about the farm, so I’ll count that as a social event. We have a gaming night once a month with friends, and there are one or two other reoccurring events, but we like our life at home. We have computer and board games, streaming services for movies and a handful of television shows (any Whovians or Trekkies out there?!), and our own solo activities. And books. All those lovely books.

I usually get books from the local library, then if I like them, I will make the purchase for our library. There have been a few that I’m happy I checked out before buying, but the majority have made it to our shelves. I’ve also found several treasures just by visiting one of our local used bookstores. We’ve “outgrown” many farming books that were geared to new farmers, but were glad to have read them and gleaned useful information. Sometimes that information was a no-kidding better way to do things, and sometimes it was “good idea, but it sure didn’t work for us.” And many times, we took the idea, modified it to meet our needs, and called it a success. Those books that we outgrew were given new homes, and I took a box full to the last OEFFA conference for their book sale table. They make a little money, and someone gets a new-to-them book – win-win!

Who has made “the cut” at the Innisfree on the Stillwater library? In no particular order, some of my favorites include: Masanobu Fukuoka, Gene Logsdon, Joel Salatin, David Kline, Eliot Coleman, Gabriel Alonso de Herrera, Tina Sams, the Foxfire series, Temple Grandin, Lynn Miller, David Hoffmann, Rosemary Gladstar, Michael Pollan, Pat Coleby, James Herriot, Juliette de Baïracli Levy. Their books cover planting, farm skills, herbalism, philosophy, poetry, history, fiction, animal husbandry, recipes, food, business, and methodologies from all over the world. I’ve read most of these several times, and get something new out of them each time. People laugh when they see James Herriot on this list since his writing is fictionalized from his life as a vet, but a lot of the animal-specific scenes are spot-on and are still relevant today.

Reading is somewhat of a seasonal activity for me. I do read all year long, but I find it harder to read from late spring through mid-fall because there is so much to do outside, and I want to get it all done before the days get shorter. I check out books from the library to skim through, and buy books as I can. Then, come winter, I’ll be curled up on the couch with some hot tea and that stack of books I collected all year, plus another pile from the library! I recently finished Pat Coleby’s Natural Sheep Care and got sidetracked by researching the “land girls” she mentioned. That led to another two books (one historical, one fiction) about land girls during World War II. I also pulled out my copy of Juliette de Baïracli Levy’s The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable, because Coleby referenced her sheep care information. It’s never a straight line for me to get through a book (even fiction) – there’s always something I want to find out more about. Yes, I do typically have 3-4 books going at the same time!

books on shelf

I hope you’re able to add some of these authors to your reading pile or the queue on your device. I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to implement all of their ideas, or that you’ll even agree with what they say, but knowledge is power, and something you read now may be the exact thing you need at some point down the road.

What authors/specific books have you read that I need to put on my reading list?

Photos by the author.


Sheep Shearing Days

My hand shears 

It has been a cool, but dry week in our part of Ohio, and I have been seeing some of my Shetlands scratching themselves on the fences, so that can mean one thing - #sheepshearing2020 has begun! If you’ve never seen a sheep-shearing, head to the internet, and you will find oh-so-many videos. Some that I watched the other night were the “2017 World Blade Shearing Final”, “Fernhill Farm Blade Shearing Competition,” “Sheep Shearing on Dartmoor, Edwardian Farm.” If you have some free time, check them out to see some professionals put their skills to the test.

I have a love/hate relationship with shearing. I love having the fleeces to use for my own spinning/weaving/knitting, and to sell to other fiber artists, but I dislike the actual process. I should say my back dislikes the process! Another video I watched (“Sheep Shearing w/ Hand Shears — I am not a robot”) is almost exactly how I shear — with the sheep upright instead of New Zealand-style shearing (the method used in the first three videos).  I take it one step further and have the sheep on a sheep stand instead of on the ground. The stand has a small car jack attached, so I can move the sheep up and down as needed. It doesn’t completely eliminate the need to bend and twist to get all the wool off, but it does help! My back is glad I don’t have to shear New Zealand style — shearers who work that way have all my respect and admiration. I’ve sheared that way before, and just about couldn’t walk afterward — it felt like I was permanently folded in half!

The whole process of shearing, hoof trimming, and tetanus booster takes maybe 20 minutes for each sheep. You may be thinking, wow, the people in those competition videos can shear a sheep in less than 5 does it take you 20? Good question! The best answer is that they are experienced professionals at the top of their abilities, and they shear many sheep per day during shearing season. I am none of those things — not experienced, not professional, and I don’t shear dozens of sheep a day! The only commonality is that we are all using hand shears instead of electric clippers (and I even use electric clippers when needed).

Because my flock is only 11 at this point (one ewe just had 2 lambs the other day, and 3 more ewes are left to lamb this year), I take my time and only shear one or two a day. Even with using a stand, by the time I’ve sheared, trimmed hooves, and given them their tetanus booster, I’m spent. A couple of aspirin before I begin, a  nice session of restorative yoga afterwards, and I’m done with “heavy lifting” work for the day! The evening will be spent with hot tea and a book on the couch, and some more stretching. Then I’ll do it all again the next day.

09 faline in fleece
Faline before shearing - taken summer 2019

Sheep (at least my Shetlands) are funny little creatures — they will fight me when I catch them and bring them to the shearing stand, fight when I put their head in the chin rest, then stand (more or less) still for the shearing process. I have a few that will get fussy, but it must feel good to have that 3-5” of wool removed because they settle down once they realize this isn’t going to hurt.

Shearing isn’t easy work, but it gives me some “one on one” time with each animal that I may not get when they are out on pasture with the flock. It’s a good time to check the overall health of the sheep by looking at their fleece. Each fleece is different depending on the age and gender of the animal. Soft, coarse, crimpy, wavy, more or less lanolin, long or short wool — so many ways a fleece can turn out. I’ve already finished shearing 4 sheep, and Faline, one of the yearlings I did today, has some super-soft fleece that is about 4-5” long. I’m looking forward to spinning it - it feels amazing.

09 faline fleece
Faline's sheared fleece - such a beautiful color!

I love to watch the flock after one of them has been shorn — they all cluster around that one, sniffing from front to back, making sure it’s the same sheep they knew before. Once they’re satisfied that this is not a new sheep, but their friend, everyone goes back to grazing. And I understand — that sheep looks remarkably different missing 4-6” of wool!

Faline after shearing - a big difference in looks!

Once all the fleeces are in, the next phase begins. I will pull off the unusable bits (which are usually around the neck, the belly, and the rear end) and start the cleaning process. Then comes the spinning into yarn, and finally knitting or weaving something beautiful!

All content and pictures by the author



This book serves as a comprehensive and inspiring full-color guide to small-scale fiber farming and wool crafting, from selecting and raising sheep and alpacas to shearing, sorting, combing, and spinning. The proper care of fiber animals leads to a superior yarn product. Lapses in good care can show up in the fleece. As the demand for quality yarn and fiber grows, more people are becoming concerned with the animals’ treatment and care. Give your animals a good home and a happy life, and enjoy superior fleece and yarn products for your own homestead or to sell.

Find it in the GRIT Store or by calling 800-978-7464.

Bits And Pieces

The last several weeks have been surreal. For us, and for many of our farming friends around the world (those that we know “in real life” and those that we know through social media), the uncertainty of recent events is coupled with the knowledge that our farms must continue. Beasties need cared for, projects need to be completed, equipment needs maintained, plans for the growing season need to be made. Lots of needs to take care of! And because we have the blessing and good fortune to both work from home, things happening off the farm take on an almost dream-like quality. My family and friends are rightfully concerned about their employment and the needs of their children/elders. We are all concerned about the local/state/national/global consequences. And none of us know how long this will last.

I made a grocery run the other day. Although people were feeling the emotional effects of what is happening, most everyone was polite and patient as we waited at the deli and meat counters, looked over the canned and frozen goods, and waited again to check out. The local IGA grocery only has three check-out lanes, and carts were at least five deep at each lane. The young lady running the lane I was in kept apologizing for the delay, so I told her she was going a fantastic job, and none of this was her fault. We still have to “stock up on compassion,” as one Facebook meme said.

Life on the farm continues, and some significant (to me, at least!) things have happened recently. One of those things is we emptied the barn of about ¾ of the hay bales that we had. That may seem puzzling, but this is hay that was baled in the summer of 2018 when we still had the cattle, who eat a LOT of hay. And waste a lot of hay, as well. We sold the cattle spring of 2019, and still had a barn full of round bales. Sheep and goats definitely don’t eat the quantity of hay that cattle do, and as this has been a milder winter than usual, we knew that there would be way too much hay. Put an ad up on Craigslist, run the numbers to know how much to keep on hand (to get us through to the summer 2020 hay harvest), and “adios” to the rest. It’s shocking at how big the barn looks now!


After several starts, stops, and restarts, we’ve decided that the hair sheep just don’t fit into our plan for the farm, so we will be focusing on the Shetland wool sheep for my fiber business, and the Kinder goats for meat and milk. One post on a Facebook group for sheep, and a lovely family from northeast Ohio drove down to pick up all of my hair sheep ewes and lambs for their flock. Can I just say how much less stressful it is to load sheep than it is to load cattle? I don’t even think my blood pressure elevated! Now I will be focusing even more on raising quality Shetland sheep with good fleeces for spinning into yarn. If you’re interested in fiber, check out my site  It’s a bit sparse (except for yarn) right now, but will be bursting at the seams with fleeces after shearing happens in April!

07 yellow crocus

The crocus are blooming, so spring is still on the way, even though it snowed about 3” a few days ago (it didn’t last long on the ground, and made it a muddy mess). Shetland lambs will be arriving at any time, and the grass is greening up. Some starlings are building a nest in the maple tree outside my window, and it has been exhausting to watch them fly back and forth to get bits of hay, sticks, chicken feathers, and other nest-building materials. These birds are hard-working! I will be starting a whole pile of seeds (lots of things that can be pickled or fermented!) this week and I’m excited to be gardening again. I’m sure that tune will change in June when the temperatures are rising and the weeds are high, but there is joy in watching tiny seeds sprout. Not quite as exciting as lambs, but very close!

07 seeds

The temperatures are slowly rising, and the natural world is waking up – I hope you are able to join me outside and enjoy early spring!

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