Odin, guard llama extraordinaire does NOT like to be touched. However, he doesn’t mind it in the least if you want to gaze at him in an admiring fashion…
One of the new lamby-lambs feeling rather brave and sturdy. The mother ewes are now back at Bonnieview and the lambs are doing just dandily out on pasture.
And last of the hoofed creatures is Thyme, the friendliest nubian milk goat you’ll probably ever meet. She spends a good chunk of her day with her elbow hooked over the door of her pen waiting for some sort of action to walk by.
I realize that I haven’t put up any pictures of my favorite animals at the farm: the meat rabbits. There are roughly 100 rabbits ranging from babies still in the nest box to the momma rabbits.
This is the second of three batches of babies. Still small enough to chill in a nest box. Since then there are three more nest boxes with babies still sleeping in puddles of their mothers fur, too small to do anything but squirm around and squeak.
These are the first batch of babies from a few months ago… too big to stay with their mothers and too small to eat.
And here’s the big buck, all on his own. Apparently he hasn’t been too prolific so there’s been some debate about what to do with him. Joe and I keep joking that Linus should make a trip down to the farm… before we realized that he’s actually sterile. Ah well, it’s better that way…
The fiber arts class took a trip down to the farm to sheer the sheep Sterling has on loan from Bonnieview. I got to step out of the office for a little bit, step into my work pants and check out some of the action.
It had been a while since I’d been down to look at the lambs. All of the sheep have had their babies now (all adorable) and there were quite a few little black lambs (pretty obviously from that handsome fella McCain/Fabio). This particular black lamb was having a great time climbing up his mother and leaping off into the air over his siblings…
In other news, Joe and I have been experimenting with Kombucha. We got a mother from someone at Sterling and made a batch. Which tasted like fizzy apple juice! I think it’s amazing that we can take black tea and sugar and turn it into something that tastes like cider without the alcohol or the apples! All natural and pretty cool to watch.
The story of Joe’s socks has come to an end (at least when it comes to the making-of-the-socks part). Here they are, together at last and on to the next adventure: being worn and keeping feet warm. Now you can see the whole process from start (the shearing of the sheep) to middle (the processing of the wool) to end (the knitting of the socks). The second sock wound up with some pretty sweet stripe action happening because there were some huge patches of white on that half of the fleece. It was so much fun knitting along just to see what color would come up next! Now… what’s next?
Less than a week ago I went to Bonnieview with some folks to shear sheep. Since then I’ve been steadily working my way through two rather large garbage bags of wool. I have three kinds/colors of fleece: a dark, dark brown that spins up black as night, a marbled fleece which spins up either grey or with stripes of color (depending upon how you card it), and a very very white fleece. I’ve processed half of the deep, dark brown and most of the marbled fleece. Now I’m out of soap to wash it with so I thought I’d take a break from the sink and the spinning wheel to show you some pictures.
This is a picture of the same fleece in three different stages. On the left is the fleece as it is straight off of the sheep. It’s chunky, full of lanolin and has bits of hay and other less desirable things in it. In the middle is the same wool from that fleece after it has been washed, dried and carded. It’s much fluffier and almost free of debris. On the far right is wool from the same fleece that has been spun. I wanted a variety of colors to come through in the final yarn, so I purposely separated the various shades in the original fleece for the greatest contrast. This will be a single-ply yarn (which means that I won’t be twisting two pieces of yarn together to make a sturdier, thicker version) and I’m going to try to knit some socks out of it. Try is the operative word here.
Joe, Emma, John, Bennet, Kate and I went over to Bonnieview to shear some sheep this morning. None of us had ever sheared sheep, and some hadn’t even wrangled them so it was a bit of an adventure. Neil had already gotten a few done and was in the middle of another when we got there. At the end of the day we’d probably sheared around twenty sheep and while we sorted through the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of wool, we got to pick out what we wanted to take with us. Joe and I wound up with two big black garbage bags: one full of white fleece and the other full of black.
Emma and Joe, getting two done at once. Emma got really quite good at shearing them by the end of our time at Bonnieview. The whole process was fun to watch and made the whole afternoon fly by. Next? Lambing… oh man, lambing!
I found this endearing video about sweaters (whoops… excuse me, when I said sweaters I really meant jumpers) over at Style Bubble. The narration and animation are just off-beat enough that it can’t help but make you smile. The video is by David Shrigley and it’s about the knitwear collection by Pringle of Scotland.
Today was my last day at Bonnieview. That means no more yurt, no more putting up fence, no more wrestling sheep, no more swaggering around in Carharrts and Sorrels. It’s bittersweet. I can always visit though and wrestle all the sheep I want in my free time.
What exactly did I do on my last day? I helped round up the rams and brought them down to do their yearly business with the lady sheep. BUT. It wasn’t a smooth process. To tell you the story and do it justice I need to start at the beginning, aka: yesterday morning. I woke up and tromped down a frost field to the farmhouse. I fed the lambs, chickens and pigs and then went inside to feed myself and I was on baby watch until after lunch. Lunch seems so long ago… At the end of lunch I headed outside to help Neil move the milkers from their field (which is the same field the yurt is perching at the top of) into the barn. He had already taken a bucket of grain out and was letting them out of the fence by the time I got my shoes on. I walked to the end of the driveway and watched him run in front of more than 170 large, bellowing, crazed dairy sheep.
Pause for a second. Whenever I go into the lamb barn, or out into the fields with the sheep and they think I might have grain on my body somewhere they get up and run towards me “BAAAaaaaAAAAAhhhhhhing” at me which sounds an awful lot like “BWWAAAIIIINNNSSSSSS!” with the same amount of enthusiasm as zombies searching for their little treats.
So Neil is rather capably jogging in front of this mindless horde and they rumble past me like a woolie train, around the corner and right into the barn. As I watch the last rump disappear around the corner I realize that there’s no one there to close the gate and Neil is probably pinned in the far side of the barn by hot, furry bodies trying to eat that grain. I dropped my mittens and hat when I start sprinting for the barn but it was too late. Just as that last rump disappeared a saw the front of the surge come back around the corner. They ran straight towards me and, at the last second, neatly parted around me like a tide, leaving me with an even layer of sheep poops on the dirt road. They’re constantly dribbling out little sheep pellets. I was already screaming and running after them when Neil came around the corner.
To cut a long and repetitive story short, it took four adults an hour of running, screaming and flailing jackets around to herd them back into the barn. Unfortunately, when the sheep were in the middle of their rampage they went right by the lamb pen and all of the lambs jumped over the fence and got mixed in with the adult ewes. Disaster. Then the llamas from the two groups started to fight and get in the way. Overall it was a sweaty, frustrating hour. It was a really tight fit in the barn because it wasn’t meant to hold all the ewes AND the lambs but it was the only way we could corral them all in one place so we could sort them. Neil waded into the sea of sheep and started tossing the smaller lambs into a pen we made out of field fence. Then we ran the rest of the ewes through the milking parlor. While they had their heads in the stanchions, like they would if we were going to milk them, Neil systematically pulled them off of the platform and into a pen in the middle of the parlor. This made three groups: the ewes that didn’t get pulled of the platform, the ewes that did and then the lambs that were at breeding weight. We had pulled all of the fencing out of the field around the yurt earlier that day (about 30 sections of fencing) and had set them up in three different fields about 1/4 mile apart from each other.
At this point it was dusk (4:30). Neil decided to lead the first group of sheep out to their pen for the night. He grabbed a bucket of grain and started jogging while I let them out. I followed behind them in the jeep so that I could catch stragglers, watch for cars behind us and so that we wouldn’t have to walk the 1/2 mile back to the farm. There were a couple of hectic moments when the entire herd of sheep decided to veer off the road into an empty pasture half way there and I had to leap out of the jeep and run screaming after them at full speed. I managed to circle in front of them and I ripped off my flannel shirt and started whipping around my head while I yelled “EEEEAaaa! SHEEPSHEEP SHEEEEeeeEEEP!” as I careened off a hillside into the middle of the group. The ewes took off for the road and made it all the way out to their pasture.
Neil rode back with me and we got ready to run the next group out to their field. It’s dark at this point but there’s something magical about thudding down the road in hiking boots and turning your head to see a herd of ewes clipping along behind you, tails up with the headlights of a car shining around the edges of their fleece. And then one of them trips you and tries to steal the bucket of grain you’re trying desperately to keep above your head because “The minute one of them gets their head in that bucket, you’re done for.” Too true. We got them and the third group out into their respective pastures safely, just in time to head inside for dinner.
Back to today. Neil and I went up the road to round up “The Boys”. The Boys are four rams: three that have good meat babies and one that has good milk producing babies. That tunis, the brown headed ram is my favorite. His name is… Tuna (good guess… I knew you’d be able to guess that one) and during most of the year his face is nice and smooth like his ram buddies, but during breeding season it slowly scrunches up into all of those wrinkles and then by spring it’s back to how it was before he even thought of lady sheep.
Tuna… you are a cute devil. Crackers is peering out from behind him.
We took the brown sheep (who was named McCain but then his buddy, Obama died and now the name doesn’t seme appropriate any more so I renamed him Fabio today) down first and put him with his lucky ladies. His the good milking genes in the herd right now.
This is Roo. When we took Fabio, formerly known as McCain down he perched on top of the fence and waited, peering around the edge of the barn until we got back with the empty truck. He knows what’s up…
This is the big group of ewes that Neil ran down the road the night before. They were clear across the pasture but when they saw the fellas we had in the truck all of them came racing up. It’s like The Boys are rockstars, the way those ewes were trying to get up into the bed of the truck. We put all three rams in with this group and there’s two more rams coming to take care of the lambs in the other field later.
After all the ramness was taken care of I ran Odin down the road to the group of sheep who got the black ram. He’d escaped last night in all of the chaos and got covered in burs and other wonderfully terrible plant stuff. That was my last job of the day. Fini. Now I had to say good bye to:
Hey, guess what?! It’s been cold here at night, even in my little yurt with my stove. In fact, on Tuesday morning I woke up to 1/4 inch of snow all over everything. Who ever heard of snow before Halloween? It was so pretty and crisp that it was hard to grumble too much while I hiked down the hill all bundled up and cozy. Â
And then I got to wrangle the sheep into the milking parlor and milk them for a couple of hours. That wasn’t any fun in the cold, but over all it wasn’t too bad. It was so pretty watching them move around the hills to the barn that I might have even smiled a little.
Everybody waiting to be milked.
Later that day I went out to feed the lambs in Greensboro. There’s about 120 of them out there and by the time I drove the twenty minutes the snow had melted and it had turned into a really pretty day. Wednesday was the last day that we milk sheep for the season, so no more early morning milkings, wrestling with udders or complications with cleaning solvents. Yes…
It’s been almost another week at the dairy and now I’ve made both the hard and the blue cheese, the two primary cheeses we make with all of those sheep squeezin’s. On Monday we made a batch of blue cheese and I took some pictures of the process so that you can get a pretty good picture of what it takes to make cheese. Appreciate cheese! It takes hours and hours of milking plus lots of cooking and hours of preparation to make it. I guess it’s really like anything handmade, it’s a long process that’s worth it in the end (probably).
In the morning, right after milking the sheeps Neil drives the bulk tank of milk full of three days worth of milking to the cheese house just down the road. The milk is gravity fed through a little port in the side of the building into a big cooking tub.
Here’s the tub with the hose running into it. I’m not going to be able to give you exact numbers (like gallons, pounds, hours) but I’ll try to guestimate. Once the milk is in the tub we put a floating thermometer in it. Then we run piping hot water between two layers of metal in the tub which slowl heats the milk to 97 degrees.
Oh so steamy! Here is the tub, it’s about 1/3-1/2 full of milk. While it’s heating up we stir it every 10 minutes or so, just to keep things moving. It takes about 1 1/2-2 hours to heat the milk up to temperature at which point the culture and then, later, the rennet is added. This makes the milk curdle and turns the whole vat of milk into a huge rubbery block of whiteness. Imagine a cross between jello and hard boiled egg whites. It sort of tastes like hard boiled egg whites. It rests and does it’s thing for a while and then Neil cuts the curd with several different paddles.
He’s slicing it into about 1 inch cubes with the paddle and then we roll up our sleeves and get up to our elbows in cheese curd. We slowly and carefully flip all of the curd, seperating it into the 1 inch pieces and then we start to flip more agressively which breaks the curd into smaller pieces.
Here it’s been sliced into smaller bits but hasn’t been flipped yet. You can start to see some of the whey separating (it’s the yellowish liquid).
When we’ve gotten the curd into small enough pieces we drain the whey into a another tank (to feed to the piggies later) which is what’s happening in this picture. The whey is going out through that mesh barrier on the right and the curd is staying in the tank to be scooped out by hand in a minute.
When most of the whey is out we set up a ramp in between the tub and the table next to it. The curd is dumped in small batches onto the ramp and fluffed up to get some good contact with the air and also to separate it from the whey some more. After that we layer it in handfuls between the cheese molds.
These! The next day the cheese is taken out of the molds and allowed to air dry. We flip them every day for a few days and then I scraped the outsides to promote some sweet mold action. These probably weigh at least 5 pounds each, if not 6.
And here are past batches, cooling their heels in the cooler a hundred feet from the cheese house. We flip these every three days, all of them. The small rectangular blocks weigh about 2 pounds and the big round wheels weigh about 5. You can see how much shrinkage goes on as they cool and age. So that’s the cheese. All handmade from start to finish. I helped make the less moldy ones you can see in this picture (they look less moldy, but there’s a bit of something going on on all of these) and if I didn’t help to make them then I for sure touched all of them when I’ve flipped them. There’s a fairly specific smell that goes along with the cooler and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the smell of mass quantities of mold cheese. Mmmmm…