Friday, December 11, 2009

Still Life With Soup


That is what I titled the photo above, featuring our delicious homemade tomato soup alongside a bobbin full of yarn and my favorite yellow soup bowl ;)

I was reminded by a reader that I promised some lamb recipes more than a week ago! I got so busy preparing for the winter storm and artic blast that was predicted (and that we did receive by the way) that I didn't spend much time at the computer. So today as I put some dried navy beans on to soak for one of those recipes, I thought I just better sit down and get to blog posting.

By the way, here is a link to the tomato soup recipe that will take you right to the original post (September 25, 2008), if you don't already have it. The first of our family favorites with lamb makes use of that soup ;) It is called:

~ BARBECUED STICKIES ~
I use this recipe for whatever meat I have handy that I want to barbecue in the oven. This might be ribs, chops, steaks. We have our lamb chops and steaks cut 1 inch thick, so they work really well here. One of the things I really like about this one is that the meat is browned in the oven, saving the mess of an additional pan for browning on top of the stove)

3-4 pounds lamb - ribs, chops or steaks, whatever you have
Garlic powder, salt, pepper
SAUCE:
1 pint homemade tomato soup (see recipe link above) or substitute 1 can (10-3/4 ounces condensed tomato soup, undiluted
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
1 cup water
1/2 cup honey (you can use light corn syrup or I have even used maple syrup, though the sauce was not quite as thick with the maple syrup - tasty though!)
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cider vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons chili powder or hot pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Sprinkle meat with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Place in a single layer in a large baking pan. Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes; drain off the fat. Combine the sauce ingredients and pour over the meat. Bake about 50 minutes longer, turning to coat occasionally.

Now this next dish is a real comfort food, just right for these cold blustery nights, but it makes use of the slow cooker so is also nice for summer cooking when you don't want to turn on the oven. The county in Michigan where I live has been known as "bean country" for all of the beans produced, so having beans in the mixture along with our farm lamb makes it all-around Michigan Farm Food ;)

~ LAMB AND BEANS ~
2 cups dried navy beans, soaked overnight in water
About 3 pounds lamb shoulder chops
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium parsnip or turnip, chopped (if you don't have either of these, you can substitute a couple of peeled, diced potatoes)
1 large chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped (include the leaves if you can)
1 bay leaf
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 16-ounce can chicken broth (or homemade chicken stock if you have it)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup half and half (you can use milk)

Drain the liquid from the beans. In a slow cooker, combine the beans and lamb with the next 8 ingredients. Cook on high heat for about an hour, then turn your temperature to low and cook for about 6 hours or till the meat is done. When the lamb is tender, remove it and chop into chunky pieces, discarding the bones. Return the meat to the cooker and add the butter and half & half. Stir and allow to heat through. Ladle it up and enjoy! NOTE: If you notice that the liquid is cooking away, add additional stock or water if needed.

Well, there you have it - two favorite lamb recipes from our home. I hope you give them a try. I wish you could try them with Serenity Farms lamb, but if you can't, please try to find a farmer local to your area where you can purchase the meat. Ask to try just a package or two of sample cuts if they sell them that way. A good way to find a producer in your area is by going to Local Harvest - a website that helps locate and support family farms, CSA's, Farmers Markets, etc (a great resource!) Also, someone asked about the Lamb Ham I mentioned in the last post. All we did was have our processor smoke some of the roasts in the same fashion you would cure and smoke a ham when you have pork processed.

Brrrr...now I need to go pour myself another cup of hot coffee! I sure am thankful for wool socks today....

Monday, November 30, 2009

Food For Thought...


And for the table!

November seems to be about two major things for me...a return to hearty fall and winter cooking and the tie-in that has to Thanksgiving. (Okay, it is also about some special birthdays in the month - but even those seem connected to food thoughts - LOL!)

I have been meaning to write about one of my favorite foods all summer. One of my favorite foods that also happens to be home grown right here on our farm, another part of the diversity of our life as farmers and shepherds. I'm talking about good ol' delicious, nutritious American (Michigan, Serenity Farms) lamb for the table!

Growing up with sheep, we never ate lamb or mutton. My mom refused to cook it, isn't that funny? Though now I know lots of shepherds who don't eat it, so maybe it isn't so unusual. My folks and brother at home still raise sheep and still don't eat the meat. I love it. I really, truly love it. Lamb is my favorite meat - well, a good slice of bacon or ham is right up there at the top of the list, too! But then again, a slice of Serenity Farms Lamb Ham (one of our special cuts, smoked and everything, is pictured below) holds its own against the pork any day!


Over the years I have had good lamb and bad. Some of it really, really bad. Often the worst I have tasted I have eaten at sheep producing events or really expensive restaurants, if you can believe it! Watery, thin, grey, unappetising fare or else so highly seasoned and dressed up that you couldn't taste the meat - ugh! Would you like to know my "secret" for good, edible lamb for the table? I treat it just like any other meat - I use it in my favorite recipes, substituting it for beef or pork in the list of ingredients. I am not a fan of the "lamb is best prepared rare or medium rare" way of thinking. One of the things I am not overly fond of with lamb is both its texture (kind of like veal or venison or liver) and its color ;) I like to put a good "brown" on the meat with a quick sear or fry in the pan or on the grill. And I like it cooked all the way through, falling away from the bone. Lamb that has been well raised and properly processed - doesn't come out dry, in my opinion.

Did you know that (according to The American Lamb Board, "lamb is a good source of protein, niacin, zinc, iron and Vitamin B-12? And that compared to other meats, lamb has very little fat marbling throughout. Most of the fat is limited to the outside edges of the meat, so it is easily trimmed away." And while some might add additional fat to their ground lamb, we do not. I like it lean and dry and full of nothing but what we raised here on our property.

That brings us to another part of the equation - the part where what goes into raising lamb for the table and how it is processed contribute to the quality of the flavor. How about if I write more about that tomorrow, and maybe share a few of my families favorite recipes with lamb? By the way, if you have ever eaten at my house and been served meat with the meal...it may very well have been lamb ((grin))

Our favorite way with lamb...chops over a charcoal grill! And of course, the first photo in this post shows a juicy lamb burger, cooked over charcoal with homemade rolls, a good honey mustard and lettuce and onions fresh from the garden. All things to be thankful for!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Black Corriedale Lamb Fleece and More

For whatever reason my webhost won't let me load any updated pages today. Why does that always seem to happen on a day I have things for sale? Hmmm...anyway, that is why I am posting these few things to trusty Blogger ;)

Eli - Black Corriedale lamb fleece (photos below) ~



Fine crimp, good staple length (about 4 inches) and best of all, natural black! We purchased this lamb at six months of age and he had not been coated up to that point, so there is vm in this fleece. For that reason it is priced at $8 per pound (lamb fleeces usually sell for $15 per pound). About 2.5 pounds available and I will include 4 ounces of bay black alpaca with your purchase
~ S O L D ~

Also for sale is the book pictured above "The Natural Knitter...How to Choose, Use and Knit Natural Fibers" by Barbara Albright. Includes patterns and dyeing information - a beautiful book! Priced new at $32.50 - I've barely opened it so it is in very good condition ~ S O L D ~

Finally, I still have a beautiful moorit Icelandic fleece for sale from my friend Cherie's farm... Very clean and a rich color - a bit darker than the photo shows. The thel on this fleece is super, super soft and it is one that is easy to seperate from the tog if that is what you like to do, but equally beautiful processed together. This is a ram fleece, but he was shorn well ahead of breeding season so not much of that "rammy" smell! About 2.5 pounds for $25 plus shipping


We accept Paypal, check or money order. If you have any questions or to check availability, please email me at serenityfarmswool@yahoo.com. These items would normally be listed at our website, Serenity Farms. Thank you for checking them here at the blog ;)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Couldn't Say It Any Better...

If you read my blog at all, you have probably heard me mention fellow Michigan Shepherding Family (and all around nice folks) Mike and Lona at Shady Side Farm. I love Lona's blog - Farming In The Shade - for lots of reasons, but particularly for her realistic yet loving look at farm life - not just here in Michigan, but anywhere.

I invite you take a look at her last three entries (just click on the link above) - Tuesday, October 27 for fun and creativity; Monday, October 26 for truly dedicated farming and farmers and Friday, October 23 for a disturbing and all to real possibility for important (to everyone) programs facing the chopping block here in Michigan.

Thank you for your blog, Lona, and for making time in your busy schedule to post...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Picture of an October Past...


Just a quick note to let my friends know that I am still around, here on the farm ;)

This picture is from a few Octobers-ago, the last fall that Bill was still able to drive horses. Fall is a more difficult time for him, emotionally. His favorite time of year and the time he spent so many, many hours on the lines behind a team. I am seldom at the kitchen sink, doing dishes, that I don't think of him driving up into the yard looking for a cup of coffee and calling me out to take a ride with him and share the progress of whoever he happened to be training at the time. He is an amazing man to me, who copes so well! Still, I catch a look on his face when he sits on the porch looking towards the brightly colored woods. We take walks and rides in the car, but it isn't the same you know...just a few days ago he was outside in his motorized wheelchair and I was working in the garden. He didn't know I was so close, and I heard him down at the fence, talking outloud to "Sam" - his horse equivalent of a partner, the grey mare who helped him start and train numerous young horses. I couldn't stop the tears in my eyes or the lump in my throat.

I'll be back soon with more regular posts...till then, enjoy every moment you can of our glorious Autumn days....

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Where Did July Go?


Not only did the days of this last month seem to fly by, they haven't felt much like summer weather (which is actually just fine with me!) - we did not have a single day in Michigan that was over 85 degrees and there has been no humidity. The sheep and I like this ;) So does the lettuce (pictured above) which continues to grow nicely in my garden without turning bitter or bolting!

I had lots of lovely blog posts planned, but summer is just such a busy time, don't you agree? And now, here it is August...

But since I would like to share with you how our summer is going, I thought I would just post a few pictures and try to do better with the updates this next month!

There has been FIBER ~


Corriedale roving with dyed silk noil


Spun yarn and knitted sample

And the SHEEP that provide the fiber ~


Ewes on pasture

The LAMBS have grown well! Some we will keep in the flock ~


Deborah and her ewe lamb

And some have found new homes ~


Ainsley's ram lamb, Forrest

Time with FIBERY FRIENDS ~


Fiber group here at the farm, including a drop spindle class with Donna from Spinning Daydreams (this photo is actually from June)


Spinning at Mary's farm, including our youngest member, little "E" sitting on her grandma's lap

Time with FAMILY and FRIENDS ~


Friend Mary and brother Michael at the folks' farm


Precious Grandbabies covered with chocolate from s'mores, playing hide and seek in the hay field...such wonderful summertime memories!

I marked the end of this month in my garden, pulling weeds, while all around me the air was filled with the heady fragrance of the Oriental lilies, various Garden Phlox, Roses and even some of the Daylilies that are fragrant. The moon was already glowing in the twilight sky and fireflies were in abundance, even landing on my arm and glowing brightly before flying off. I could hear Bill and Alex discussing something through the open kitchen window. I thought of this verse from the Psalms, Psalms 65:8 "Thou makest the outgoing of the morning and evening to rejoice" and I rejoiced along with God and this evening He had provided - in fact a whole month of these mornings and evenings!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Post with no Pictures

I don't usually like to post to the blog with no photos to share, but I thought some of you might be wondering where I have been the past month (or maybe you haven't been, but I will tell you anyway - LOL!)

We have been computer-less for the past few weeks, and that has actually been okay (though a bit inconvenient) because we have been busy with my mom in the hospital; hay being made during some very hot days and rain; preparing for a fiber day here at the farm and trying to keep sheep up to date on worming and vaccinations. I'm happy to report that mom is home, the hay is in the barn with no rain on it, fiber day has come and gone (what a fun day - I will blog about that first thing when the computer is up and running again) and the temperatures this week are 30 degrees cooler than they were last week!!!

Hope to "see" you all soon ;D

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cupie Doll yarn and scarf


Lots of stuff going on around the farm that I would love to post about, but until I find the time I at least want to share with you some spinning and knitting content (a girl has got to have some quiet spinning/knitting time, right?)

I have always admired the beautiful fibery creations from fellow Michigander CJ Kopec of CJ Kopec Creations. When I stumbled upon a Ravelry group dedicated to spinning something special that CJ creates each month, I had to give it a whirl ;) I bought on of the May offerings, Cupie Doll - a Corriedale fiber, how could I resist? LOL....

The fiber arrived and it was drop-dead gorgeous...one of those jaw-dropping fibers that spinners just dream about! I loved the color of the roving when I received it, just loved it and CJ’s preparation is flawless! However, as is often the case for me, once I started spinning it I didn’t like the yarn colors as much as I did while it was still in the batt (does anyone else find this? Love the roving, hate the resulting yarn or hate the roving but love the yarn once it is spun?). And I didn’t find this to be the softest Corriedale - I am pretty spoiled by my own flocks fiber, lol! So while my original plan was a laceweight, I found the resulting yarn to dull and to harsh for my planned project. Okay, I thought, I will spin a sportweight, 3-ply - Navajo plying to preserve the colors. Sigh, still didn’t like it and wouldn’t have gotten much yardage (I was thinking socks or mittens at this point) since I had only purchased 4 ounces.


My next thought was a thick and thin single. Ah-ha! Beautiful! Preserved the lovely colors CJ had created and had a much softer feel to the yarn. I spun the full amount and started knitting a swatch directly from the bobbin (something I often do with my singles yarns) Ugh…I had a scarf planned, but STILL didn’t like the looks! I left the spun yarn sitting on the bobbin next to my “knitting” chair and I don’t know why, but I happened to catch sight of some coppery colored thread I had purchased for plying with something else that lay in my spinning basket. My mind started working, I started plying and …at last, success! At least I am happy with it ;D


The details: Barely drafted the roving, spun on my old faithful Louet S17 on the larger whorl (5:1 I believe). Plied with metallic copper colored sewing thread. I held the thread directly in front of the orifice in my right hand and the fiber at anywhere from a 45 degree angle to a 90 degree angle in my left hand to get the effect I wanted. I ended up with a little more yardage than I first counted…there is closer to 400 yards.


I created a long, skinny scarf from my finished yarn using the pattern One Skein-A-Stole by Katja Jordan (a very fun pattern by the way!) The pattern has you cast on 55 sts for a stole, but I cast on just 15 stitches to create the skinny scarf I wanted. I would like to do something to the ends of the scarf to give it a more “finished” look, and I have a bit of yarn left. Don’t want fringe, but possibly beads? Wish I would have done that to start with ;) Also, if I make this pattern again, I believe I will knit a few stitches at the beginning and end of the row to give the edges a more “polished” look…they are a little raggedy looking with this thick and thin, boucle-like yarn.

I won't be able to participate in the June spin-a-long, but I certainly plan on more of CJ's fiber in my future...I can't recommend her product and her customer service enough!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sheep and Pastures

Our bottle lamb, Francie, is doing well and growing, though she is still smaller than the other lambs her age. She nibbles at grass and eats soft hay and drinks water just like the other sheep.


She still has her bottle of milk replacer, but the feedings are farther apart. It was very hard for me to let her begin sleeping in the big barn (that first night I kept waking up wondering if I should go and get her!) She has her own pen, adjoing the pen for the main flock. Whenever I go to the barn, she gets to come out and help me with chores and other jobs. Just a few days ago, she helped me move the ewes and their lambs to new pasture. Here she is, looking things over:


We have been blessed this spring with good rains and weather, the pastures are doing well and the sheep were anxious to get to fresh grass. This is Amanda and her twins (by the way, this is the only white lamb this year out of the thirty five we have!) hurrying to check it out:


Desi's more colorful ewe lamb, below, decides this looks interesting:


(Isn't she a pretty lamb? I know she looks like she belongs in a flock of Jacob sheep, LOL, but she is all Corriedale, sired by our new ram Eli)

It wasn't long before the entire flock joined in and was spread out across the field, enjoying a good meal:


Francie and I were pretty tired after all of our hard work that day, but we were satisfied with a job well done and a happy flock of sheep ;D

Spring Magnolias

"God, give us eyes to see the beauty of spring,
And to behold Your majesty in every living thing.
And may we see in lacy leaves and every budding flower,
The hand that rules the universe with gentleness and power" ~ Helen Steiner Rice





(Photos of the magnolia tree in the back yard of our farm...such beauty and oh! the fragrance! It is heavenly)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Where Have I Been?

Looking back at the last day that I posted to the blog, March 30...we started lambing the next day...and started out with a bang, with four ewes lambing throughout the day, each with a nice set of twins. This continued for the next two weeks, usually one or two ewes lambing each day...sometimes three or four ((grin)).

Its hard to get good photos of new lambs without spending the entire day in the barn (hey, come to think of it, I DO spend a good bit of the day in the barn, but I am usually working!) Here are just a couple of quick snaps I managed to get ~ not the best, but you can see some of our more colorful babies:












Our flock is not nearly as large as some of you have and our ewes do not generally need any assistance to lamb (we have selected and culled carefully for these characteristics!) but it is still a lot of work for me, and time. Ewe gives birth, lambs are fine and trying to nurse but in the flock mob and with other ewes sometimes giving birth at the same time it is important to get the new mama's into a little quiet area (lambing jugs) to just do their business and get those babies off to a good and quiet start! Dip the navels in iodine, strip the teats on the ewe to make sure milk is flowing and try not to stress mom to much at that critical bonding period. Give her a little fresh water and soft green hay (she's just done a big job and hasn't been able to fill herself up much for the past few months!) and then leave them alone. Tiring, but very rewarding.

As on any farm there were a few tragedies, but thankfully only a few. One of them was more a sadness than a tragedy. You have heard me talk of one of favorite old ewes, Eve, on this site many times. You have seen her fleece and her offspring. Well, this year Eve delivered us with yet another set of twin ewe lambs (Eve has never had a ram lamb for us, unlike our other matron, her flockmate Mary who has only given us ram lambs!) Anyway, sneaky Eve delivered her twins in a half hour window when I was not in the barn and on one of the coldest, windiest days we had in March. Although Eve was in good condition her lambs were very small...in fact one was only about three pounds though fully developed. Second baby was a little bigger, maybe six or seven pounds and very lively. I quickly brought the tiny lamb to the house, ran back to the barn to get Eve and number Two in a jug and much to Eve's displeasure milked some colostrum from her to take back to the house with me. Bill tube fed the tiny baby and we started warming her up. I won't go into all of the details, but baby number One did not survive despite our efforts. And for whatever reason after two days Eve's milk quit flowing and when that happened Eve decided she no longer needed to mother her lamb. There are lots of reasons why this might have happened, but here I was with a hungry little ewe lamb who was growing weak and it was still very, very cold. To the house she came.

Now, we are not much on bottle raising lambs and have folks waiting to take bottle babies from us if we should have one. So usually we would get the bottle baby going and deliver them to new homes. But I couldn't do that with this little girl....what will be Eve's last contribution to our flock. She is such an adorable little badgerface girl and with a will to survive. Mason, my grandson, has named her "Francie" after a story he had in kindergarten this year (it is an "F" year for lamb names for us). Here is Francie asleep on her pink blanket, and then asleep on my feet (yes, like most bottle lambs she is often under foot!)





She goes every where around the farm with me...to do chores, out to pasture, to hang clothes on the line. She even helps me sort fleeces (another job I have been working on during the past month):



Will it tug at your heartstrings as much as it does mine if I tell you that the fleece in the photo belongs to her mama, Eve? I was working on fleeces when I looked down and saw her curled up there. Do you think that she knew? I like to think that she did.

Along with keeping up with lambing, skirting fleeces and trying to keep up with orders, shipping, etc, there has been some spinning and some knitting...




One of the knitting projects was that I finished my long-suffering pair of Eclectic Aquarian Jaywalkers socks from the STR mediumweight yarn that my daughter bought me for my birthday a while back. I wasn't sure I was going to have quite enough yarn, so added the bright green Regia as a contrast. I love them ;D

The spinning is a special project for my friend Cheryl at Painted Rock Farm and is of her Jacob wool. I am spinning sock yarn to make her a pair of socks. I have actually started the socks, but won't show a picture as they are to be a surprise for her. I will say that the roving is truly lovely (and I am pretty sure she has more for sale...you should be able to click on the farm name to link to her website). Also in that photo is some washed Jacob from a fleece I purchased from her, equally lovely and with very little vm.

Of course there is lots more work and knitting and spinning going on, but for now I think I have given you enough of an update ;D Hope to post a bit more often, but spring is springing around the farm and there are still two more ewes to lamb and a few more fleeces to ship off and gardening and....and...well, you fill in the blanks!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Seeds For Thought...

(Wow, first of all I want to say thank you to all of the get well wishes and sympathy notes after I wrote about my recent sickness! I had no idea so many people read my blog because not everyone comments, but I got a lot of notes (both here at the blog and via email) and I appreciate every single one of them…especially now that I actually am feeling better, LOL! Thank you, thank you!!!


Something I did a few days ago that I didn’t get the chance to write about before I got sick was to “walk” clover seed onto some of our pastures. My farmer type readers will know what I mean by this, but for those of you who don’t it is just what it sounds like….walking back and forth across pasture fields spreading seed by hand. In this case, we are adding a “new, improved” variety of clover to our pastures as it is supposed to be good, hardy, drought resistant once established and not so prone to cause bloat in the sheep. Some of our existing pastures are getting pretty old and need some new energy. We are a small farm, utilizing old-fashioned, more traditional methods for everything we can. Real low-tech but high quality and satisfying jobs for the most part. The tools used are old, but effective – an old time hand seeder and your own two feet! In the photo above is a picture of the Seeder, or Sower as they are sometimes called. I'll bet some of you have one of these in your barn, and lots of you have them and find there are holes in the canvas bag from mice chewing in to get some stray seed. Ours did and we had to borrow this one from our friend, Hilda. Below is a close up picture of the directions that are still very legible on the bottom:


For me, this seeding was something that I've watched my grandfather, my father and my husband do. It seemed like a very soothing and purposeful job to me, but there was always someone else who did it. Now that job falls to me and at first, everyone seemed worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it (grin).

First, Dad “Let me try to get up there (note ~ Dad lives 75 miles away) and get that seed on for you” Me: “I think I can do it, Dad, don’t worry about it” Then Husband “Why don’t you get Mark (son-in-law) to come and do this for you? That’s a lot of walking” Me: “I think I can do it, if you show me how. Let’s not bother Mark” Dad: “I think I can get up there this week to get that seed on for you” Me: “Really Dad, it’s okay, don’t worry about it. I’ll get Mark to help me” (remember, I said I wouldn’t bother Mark, but I don’t want my Dad to worry about me – he has enough things to do!) Husband: “Maybe Paul (our neighbor) would come and help you get that seed on if you ask him” Me: “ Really, honey, I want to do it, if you will show me what to do. I hate to bother someone else with our work” Husband: “What about Alex (our foster son) He can help you” Me: “Yes, he can. Alex and I can take turns, if you will show us how”

Can you see how the conversation went? LOL…in the end, when the weather conditions were just right, we gathered all the things needed for the job and Bill sets it all up for me. Things had to be adjusted to suit my length of stride, my height, and the size of the seed in the seeder (clover seed is TINY! I kept thinking of the scripture in Matthew about having faith the size of a mustard seed…) Then, I helped Bill into the van and we drove to the pasture field. My thinking was that if I had trouble or the seeder needed more adjustments, I would have him close by rather than having to walk all the way back up to the house. I knew he would be watching from the porch, anyway ;)

He went over the instructions with me one more time. These were the same instructions given me, via phone message, by my Dad which were basically this: "Remember to look straight ahead, across the field and walk towards that landmark….Every time your right leg goes forward, start another turn on the seeder… If you have to stop, be sure to close down the seeder so seed doesn’t continue to fall out on the ground when you aren’t moving (this is expensive seed, by the way)” I couln't help but think of how all of these instructions were wonderful directions for life...

I draw a deep breath, fix my eyes on the second fence post in from the corner across the pasture…and begin. Step, crank; step, crank….one, two; one, two…OOPS, there’s a dip in the ground, made by one of the big horses hooves and I twist my ankle and get a bit off stride – take my eyes off my distant “marking post”. Collect myself and get back to it…I’m doing it!!! Oops, don’t get so excited and forget to crank the handle of the seeder! Back in stride, this is going great! Darn, here’s the dividing fence, I have to slow down and step over but I do it and don’t have to shut down the seeder. Step, crank; step, crank….before I know it I am to the other side. I shut down the seeder to make my turn and to fix my eyes on a different “land mark” to head towards. Hey, this is good!

Bill was encouraging and proud of me, I could tell. It felt good, to do this. The more I walked, the more confident I got and soon I was nearly done. I was tired, but I kept going. Twenty five trips across that five acre pasture field were a lot of trips for this girl with the beginnings of an awful cold (by this time, Alex was already sick and missing school - that's why he couldn't help me. He wanted to, but I wouldn't let him) But I did it! My heart sang when Bill told me I had done a good job. Teamwork.

On my very last trip across, at the very end of the field, what do you suppose? I looked down and saw sticking up out of the mud - a Horseshoe!!! I reached down to pull it up, wondering which of our long ago draft horses had lost this shoe here in pasture and remembering that probably one of us or the daughter had walked the field looking for it. It seemed so symbolic to me...a lucky find, planting clover, a change in times and circumstances for us, yet working together. I had made it through my new "job" with love and support and encouragement and out of necessity. I ended my pasture walk with only a cupful of seed left in the Seeder...we had planned things out just right.


(I thought you would like to see the size of shoe some of these draft horses wear)

We will hang that horseshoe above the barn door as a reminder of so many things. I will always think of the sunny, cold spring day and be reminded of how God has blessed us in our life. I will think of "faith the size of clover seed..."

Matthew 17:20 "...I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Some versions say, and I like this "But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting" It reminds us that we have our part to do, too)

Monday, March 23, 2009

We Interupt Our Regular Schedule...

Just wanted to drop a note here at my blog to let my friends and fiber customers know that we have been out of commission here at Serenity Farms the past week or so. We finally got socked with whatever awful "bug" has been going around all winter and it hit hard and moves slowly ;( Praise God that Bill has been spared and I pray that continues to be the case.

I am managing to drag myself out of bed/off the couch to do what has to be done...which of course probably doesn't speed recovery, but that's how life is on the farm, right? I'm thankful Alex was home and well enough to do chores this weekend! My daughter will come and do chores for me, too, when I am sick but her household has been sick, too, and she still has to get up and go to work, so...

Sorting and sampling fleeces has ground to a halt but I will get back to it just as soon as I can! We should also start lambing this week...and there are pens to clean, and lambing "jugs" to get set up and I really need to change some of the girls (ewes) coats. Will we get to it? I don't know. This stuff is miserable! It feels like strep throat, bronchitis, sinus infection and ear infection all rolled into one...along with body aches and a pounding headache!!! This is the longest period I have been upright for a few days, so hopefully that is a sign I am on the mend. You know one of the worst things about being sick with a cold??? Can't taste the coffee!!! LOL...

Hope to be back soon ~ until then I will leave you with a fleece skirting photo, the last one I worked on I believe. Taken by my friend Mary of me and another friend, Hilda. I believe that is Elizabeth's fleece we are pouring over!


That's me with the ski band on my ears...and yes, I really do pick over the fleeces that closely!

If I haven't mentioned it here before, it needs to be said that we could not do what we do without the help and support of dear friends and family!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Quality Control - the Fleece Department ;)

(NOTE ~ this is a very long post, but full of lots of fiber information, so I hope you will take the time to read through it all. Would you rather see it spread out over a few different posts? I appreciate all input! And as always, please don't hesitate to contact us with any questions you might have)

This year we have thirty-four sheep ~ the largest flock that Bill and I have ever had here at Serenity Farms! It is exciting and worrisome, all at the same time (grin). I am proud of each of the sheep here and looking forward to lambing in a few weeks, with the first crop of lambs from our new black ram, Eli. A few of the ewes were bred to Derek (3/4 Corriedale and ¼ CVM – a beautiful badgerface boy) and a few to the ram who is still our “main guy”, Autry. But while lambing is exciting (and stressful) and Bill’s favorite time of the year, shearing is still what I look forward to the most. Wool is my crop ;)


(This is Eli's very black lamb fleece - a raw sample, a washed sample and on the combs. See some of his yarn at the end of this post)

I wanted to shear in two batches this year, to make things a little easier on me. Sorting and skirting fleeces takes a long time and I have eager customers waiting, plus a limited amount of “safe” storage space (safe meaning a place where the fleeces can stay dry; where they won’t get chaff and dirt blown over them and where the irresponsible neighbors roaming tom cats can’t get to them…so I guess I mean safe from contamination by these things) Of course, they would be safe here in the house, but my family starts to get a bit irritated by being squeezed out by the aromatic fresh fleeces – LOL! So we began by shearing only ten – the rams, wethers and the younger lambs that I kept over but didn’t breed. And then the glory begins….as I am finally able to get my hands on my golden harvest of beautifully elegant, wonderfully warm and glowing, colorful and fine Corriedale fleece!!!

We are so happy and appreciative of the fantastic customers we have for our fleece, and do our best to live up to your expectations. I thought you might be interested in knowing just what goes into preparing a fleece to offer for sale to you. I am not talking about the year long, daily work that goes into brood stock selection; fencing and keeping good pastures for grazing; planting and producing high quality feed (hay, corn, oats) for winter feed; the cost and effort of putting a coat on each animal (each sheep has two and sometimes three different sizes to accommodate wool growth through the year); worming and vaccinations when necessary; watering and of course, the physical labor of keeping the barn clean (pitching manure, sweeping barn floor and knocking down cobwebs) Oh no, those things are just day in and day out care of animals on the farm! I’m not even talking about the effort we put into preparing for shearing day…trying to time it just right and shear the ewes before they are to close yet not to far from lambing time; hoping the weather cooperates so as not to stress the animals to much; keeping them as clean and dry as possible the night before the Shearer comes; hoping the Shearer can come the day you have scheduled; sweeping the shearing area clean; having large barrels and huge plastic bags to scoop the fresh fleece into for holding while we shear the next sheep and waiting till I have the time to skirt it properly (of course, making sure it is correctly marked with the identity of the animal donating the fleece!)

All of our sheep have names and all of them have distinct personalities and knowing these things are every bit as important to most of our customers as fleece color and staple length! For example, Charlotte is the Queen of the Barn with an exceptionally fine white fleece. Eve and Violet (mother and daughter) and their descendents are our mega-fleece producers – the smallest sheep in the flock yet producing the largest quantity of wool in the most desirable range of colors, the silver greys. We now have four generations of that family of ewes! Ainsley is the Barn Clown, always in your face and underfoot, begging for sheep cookies (Vanilla Wafers) and offering assistance while you try to work with the other sheep – in other words, usually in the way! This makes her the perfect good-will ambassador to visitors at the farm. She also happens to produce the most beautiful ewe lambs that usually manage to find a permanent place in the flock while she herself has a warm semisweet chocolate brown fleece! Amanda, our largest white ewe, loves nothing more than scratches under her chin and to literally try to climb in your lap if you sit down in the pasture! Amazing that both Amanda and Ainsley are so friendly, as they each had especially wild mothers – Amanda is from Hannah , and Ainsley from Lizzie (nicknamed Lizzie-Borden in the barn!) Then we have Celia, my only daughter of our beloved Brooke whom we lost two years ago. Celia is elegant and regal in stature, with the same fine jet-black fleece as her mother. But for all of her refined looks, Celia is rather…ummm…un-graceful! She plows her way through any situation, slopping up feed and water and knocking things over on her way (including the shepherd, if the shepherd isn’t careful!)

I share all of these quirky little sheep traits with you so that you realize that when you contact Serenity Farms looking for Corriedale fleece and I set about selecting one I think you will like, you are getting more than just the color and crimp and staple length – you are receiving a bit of our farm and the joy we take in the personalities of our animals. If you contact us about breeding stock, we have been at this long enough to know what traits we are likely to get from a particular mating of animals. We know that from Autry, our main ram, we get fantastic fleece and correct conformation and vitality. From Derek we get fleece and color and beauty, but also some flightiness. We know that Charlotte and Violet and Eve’s descendents are going to offer longevity.

This farm and this flock of sheep are not just our work….they are our daily life! I think our customers appreciate that.

Okay - back to my original topic, which was what goes into preparing a fleece for sale after it comes off the sheep! This is my version of quality control ;)

SKIRTING

First, I weigh the fleece and record the unskirted weight. Next, the fleece is spread out on some version of a skirting table – this can be fancy, purchased, homemade or simply a screen or gate laid out on top of a couple of saw horses…that is my set-up. I look for the best light possible, which is natural sunlight for my eyes, but often it is hard to find a place out of the wind so I set up under some good strong light over the cement alley of the barn. Often the curious sheep stand on the other side of their pens to watch the proceedings!


(The sheep aren't actually so overcrowded at our farm...this is just all of them trying to find a place at the fence!)

The fleece is spread out with the outer edges facing up and towards me. The very first thing I check for is strength and soundness. I pull a few locks from different parts of the fleece and give them a sharp tug to be sure they don’t break apart. A weakness is usually caused by some stress to the sheep throughout the growing year, possibly an illness or a move (as in the purchase of a new sheep). Once soundness has been determined, we continue on with skirting away the dirtiest parts of the fleece. I have a nice photo of the skirting table and fleece, but it is in the camera and the camera needs a new battery...will put it here as soon as I can!

Right away, that is pulling away most of the edges and include manure and urine “tags” from the back end of the sheep; wet and matted areas from the lower sides and then the chaff filled neck wool. The Shearer usually tosses aside the belly and leg wool, and often he can throw aside some of the other really contaminated stuff, which is helpful to me. Second cuts are short, fuzzy pieces of wool that occur when the Shearer has to make a second pass over an already shorn area. That might not sound like a big deal, but anyone who has worked with preparing a fleece for spinning will tell you that these second cuts make for major lumps and bumps in the processed fiber! They are also unreasonably difficult to “shake out” of these Corriedale fleeces with lots of lanolin…they just want to stick onto the fiber like Velcro!!! Ugh…but I try to get rid of as much of these as possible. We also pick out any obvious pieces of chaff that slip by and are under the coats. What I end up with are three different categories from each fiber - #1) prime blanket. This is the fiber that is well protected by the blanket, is very consistent in length, soft and lovely! This is what goes to you, our customer! #2) good fleece but maybe around the edges of the coat…along the sides, hindquarter and the neck fleece if it is not to full of vm. This is what I will keep for myself. Good sound fleece, but just dirtier than I want to offer my customers. Then #3) the junk (throw-away, garden mulch, etc).


(Above, a bag of prime fleece from 2008, ready to go to its new home)

Next is my very informal, unscientific, personal “grading” system. Sometimes, even though we change coats during the year to allow for fleece growth, we will have some matting at the tips of the fleece, especially on those that grow very long wool. These have to be assessed. If they are not felted and open up during the washing process, I still consider this a prime fleece for sale. If they are dry, weak, brittle or felted, I do not. I find we have more of this matting in years where there has been a lot of humidity or rainfall. Another thing that happens during those especially moist years is that the wool retains moisture, usually those fleeces that are especially dense. They will have to be spread out to air dry before being shipped to the customer. I don’t want my customers paying for “water weight” – LOL – and believe me, it can add up! I look at the amount of crimp and the staple length. I want to be able to tell the potential buyer in as much detail as I can the characteristics of the fleece.

Now the prime, for sale fleece is weighed and that weight is recorded. This goes back into its bag – usually clear plastic with air holes poked in it and never sealed on top and again with an identifying nametag. My second grade fiber, what I will keep for myself is also weighed and recorded on the sheep’s record, identified and bagged. From that bag of prime fleece, I pull out some samples from different areas of the wool – usually amounting to a few ounces. This comes to the house with me and is washed exactly as I would wash a full fleece. When it is dry, I process this bit of fiber…usually with my Louet Mini Combs, but sometimes with my Louet fine cloth hand cards….to give me some roving to spin. I spin a sample, 2-ply yarn from the fiber.

(Above is "Eddie's" fiber being sampled)

Do you see where this is going? I have now sampled a particular fiber from start to finish! This way, I can tell a customer with certainty how the fiber behaved, how well it washed up, etc. This is quality control not only for the customer but also for me. Here at Serenity Farms we offer a full guarantee of our fibers to be as represented when you receive it or you can return it for your money back (minus shipping costs). I want to know from start to finish that the fiber is okay. I have NEVER had a fleece returned, but I have had questions asked about the tips, if there is vm, the color, the length….and I always have my “control card” to refer to ;) I know the fleece is good when it is sent to you and I know that it can be made into wonderful yarn. Now, what happens to things when you begin to work with it yourself…that I can’t control ((grin)) – but I will know from handling that particular fiber that it is sound, strong, and able to be processed and spun into yarn.


(Above is Eleanor's fleece sample. Hers is a lamb fleece, with what I term "dirty tips". But they are strong and sound and the dirt washes out, as you can see from the washed sample. Below, yarns spun from Eleanor's white, Evelyn's grey and Eli's black. Aren't they lovely?)
Whew, this was a really long-winded post but I hope that you now have a better understanding of how much time, effort and dedication goes into every Serenity Farms fleece that is offered for sale! I know how tough economic times are for many and yet I also know how important treating yourself to some small pleasures can be, too, so I want you to shop with confidence at this family farm of dedicated shepherds, hand spinners and knitters. I want you to feel like you know our sheep and that you know us, and that you feel that your dollars are well spent here. If ever they aren’t, I want you to be sure to tell me about it ;)

Be sure to visit our website to learn more about our small, Michigan family farm and our sheep. Corriedales are such a wonderful breed! And if you have any interest in a Serenity Farms Corriedale fleece of your own, please contact us at serenityfarmswool@yahoo.com

I will be posting more fleece photos both here and at the website as I get them skirted. Most are already spoken for, but some are not, and they could go home with you!