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 ;)


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

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!

Oh My ~ Fresh Corriedale Fleeces!

My favorite time of year! Or as I have called it before, My Golden Harvest ;D

Check back soon to learn a little bit more about what goes into every fleece we offer for sale....and if you are interested in obtaining one of these lovely Corriedale fleeces, please contact me at

Saturday, March 07, 2009

French Press

I'm not sure why, but all day today (well, actually yesterday - Friday - as it is now early on Saturday morning) I was so tired, I felt like I was just dragging...I was busy and got no time for one of my five minute cat-naps, so after a lazy woman's supper of pizza I settled down to watch The News Hour with Bill and promptly fell asleep! Lucky for me, I was already in my pj's, but that is super early for me to be asleep! And of course, what happens then? I am wide awake, tossing and turning, shortly after midnight ;( I finally decide to give it up, get out of bed and try to be productive. There were a few dishes in the sink and I washed those up then decided to browse Ravelry looking at patterns ((grin)) - a very dangerous thing to do for someone with so many WIP's and not at all in the productive category! But it was fun (though I am sure my tired eyes won't appreciate it tomorrow)

I could feel a chill creeping into the house, so got up and wrapped myself in my New York shawl and then started to get a hankering for coffee. A good, steamy hot cup. Not wanting to make a full pot at this wee hour of the morning, I turned to my beloved French Press! I already had just enough beans ground to make a few cups full and oh my, it was so good! So good that I had to make a second ;) And now I am ready for bed ((grin))...funny how that cup of caffeine relaxes me enough so that I can fall asleep....

y..a..w..n ~ I hope I will be awake enough for fiber group today!