Our barn was the very first structure we built as we knew there was a need to store tools and equipment long before we called the land our home. (You can read a little more about our barn adventure here, here, and here).
When I set the very first posts we were in the middle of quite a drought and the entire homestead was covered in very tall grass. Because of this, I had no idea I was actually building our barn in a pretty poor location. When the rain returned, I soon discovered our building area was actually in a low spot and collected quite a bit of water. No sooner had I built the barn, I was digging a drainage ditch around the perimeter and installing french drains, gravel and rocks to divert the rainwater.
This worked fairly well until our home was built and the road base from the house to the barn was laid. A great volume of water would drain from the house gutters, follow the nice new graded plain to the new road, take a right turn and follow the road straight to the front door of the barn. Again I was employed in digging trenches, but no matter what I did, the barn floor would experience varying degrees of drainage. The result was a wet, muddy floor that we knew would be unsuitable for our future animals.
We read on the subject and talked to people in the area and settled on the same kind of red dirt/sand that is typically seen in arenas. The wet mud problem vanished, but once our sheep moved in, it didn’t take long to realize it was turning them orange! After our first season on the farm, I dug out as much of the red dirt as I could and we replaced it a dump truck load of something similar to play sand.
This seemed to solve both the problem with mud and orange sheep, but cleaning a twenty by twenty foot litter box with a rake and mud shovel (sifter) every day became an every day chore. There really didn’t seem to be any way around this so for the past two years, rake, sift, dump has been a daily routine.
Then came our recent discovery at the fiber mill. Even after washing our wool fleece twice, the mill owner showed us a pile of fine grit and sand that clogged their machinery and caused a slow-down when processing our wool. The owner has sheep on ground not too different from ours and we asked how they reduced the problem in their flock. The answer was a wooden floor in their barn.
This solution sounded reasonable enough, but as with all suggestions and ideas, we took it into consideration and researched it. Turns out, plenty of other people have used this same solution. How is it that we never came upon this idea before?
The decision was made and our sheep were going to get a Texas-sized dance floor!
Until next time…..
2018 was our second shearing season and we took the opportunity to learn more about our wool. We sent off samples for each animal and were thrilled with the results.
Our wool falls into the very fine category! Here are the results:
Rather than trying to process the wool ourselves this year, we had it processed by the great folks at Independence Wool. We did a considerable amount of skirting the wool by hand prior to handing it off and were rewarded with the report from the mill that our wool was not considered to be exceptionally dirty with seeds and other “vegetable matter”.
We did learn that we should probably let the wool grow a little longer before the next shearing as well as add a little more than our usual amount of supplemental feed.
Our final lesson from the mill was that even with all our precautions and care for the sheep, their sleeping on our sand floor in the barn creates a process problem for the mill. They showed us a pile of fine grit and sand that came out of the wool (after washing) in the carding machine. It is too late in the season for us to make changes that will fix this for our 2019 wool, but there are things already in the works to help with that issue (Stay tuned!).
Our shearer did a great job and as a result, this years wool has far less “slubs” or lint and was cut much more evenly. It is processed into semi worsted roving and the prices reflect the lengths and micron count.
What is worsted or semi-worsted roving? Here’s an article to help understand the difference:
|Wade (16.7 microns /3.14 inch length): $4 per Ounce|
|Wendy (18.5 microns and /3.54 inch length): $4 per ounce|
|Winton (18.6 microns /2.95 inch length): $3.50 per ounce|
|Wynonna (18.8 microns /2.75 inch length): $3.50 per ounce|
|Wanda (18.9 microns /3.54 inch length): $4.00 per ounce|
When it comes to our momma sheep and their babies, there appears to be a trend developing at Whirldworks Farm. It would appear that cold fronts that blow in on Sundays bring out the lambs! Last year pretty much all the babies came to us under these conditions.
Last weekend a cold front blew in Saturday night and Sunday morning Wanda was standing tall and proud with her new baby, Ansel.
This weekend, a cold front blew in again on Saturday and this morning we found Wendy standing even more proud with her twin babies, Ari (boy) and Ariel (girl). It is interesting to note that last year Wendy had a set of twins ( a boy and a girl) as well. All our other ewes, so far, have had singles. Time will tell what other lambs are in store for us this year, but needless to say, it is a very exciting part of our year.
Ari and Ariel
We found this wool to be very soft and it has a great crimp. 2017 was our first shearing season and we learned allot from it. We hired a wonderful shearer for our first fleeces, but learned a valuable lesson in the process. Our shearer made the sheep look show-ready, but unfortunately the result was lesser quality fleece. Because of the shearing process in 2017, we ended up with a lot of second cuts in this season’s wool and the staple length was rather short, due to the way it was sheared. No fault of the shearer, we just didn’t know what we were expecting (or needing for that matter).
We also learned that washing the wool ourselves, by hand, was incredibly labor intensive and left the wool somewhat felted.
In order to put this wool to use we had to open the fibers up again before putting them through the carder, or use a hand carder. We believe a tool called a picker would be helpful in opening up the fibers to make them easier to card.
After having manually opened some of the locks (and wads) of felted fiber we were able to card about 5 “rollogs” weighing about 1oz each. This spins into a very bumpy yarn wit h a lot of “slubs” or lint. It has a very “artsy” texture that would make great place mats or other items where a lot of texture is desirable. It is nonetheless very exciting to actually spin wool from our very own sheep.
We have set the price for this wool at only $12 per lb because of the inferior shearing method, and overhandling during the washing phase. It is still a very spin-able wool for a somewhat seasoned spinner and makes a great yarn for certain applications.
Since we began raising our sheep, most of our lambs have been born in January. Such was the case in 2018 as well and some of them came during a horribly cold period for our area. We were seeing temperatures in the teens and keeping those babies warm was a challenge. So much so that we decided to delay our breeding season this year to allow the lambs to be born in February or March.
Wanda had other plans! I went out to the barn for our morning routine to let the sheep out to pasture and just beyond the sound of the excited sheep baaas came a tiny, precious sound. The ewes all moved toward the gate as I approached except for Wanda. And there, hiding behind her was a brand new baby boy we have named Ansel. Despit having delayed the breeding in 2018, Wanda had her baby on essentially the same exact day as last year, during a cold front. Thankfully this cold front isn’t nearly as bad as it was this time last year.
So, please join us in welcoming baby Ansel to the Whirldworks Farm family!
The cold and rainy weather of late gave way this weekend and we were blessed with three days of beautiful, warm sunshine. We spent Saturday catching up on many of the chores that needed done, but today we spent some time in the woods.
One of my favorite things to do while on our walks is to look for new and interesting fungi. I would have never thought this to be a “thing” for me, but in our woods we have found fungi to be a vastly interesting subject. Our search was rewarded today as we discovered some typical growths on a tree, but also something we have never seen before. We discovered a variety of fungus that has the appearance of a flower and it was so fun to just sit and look at it for a little while.
The winter rains have certainly left behind a wet and muddy floor upon which to venture, but our treks have been enjoyable with the sun shining through leafless trees and the creek has been running full much longer than we are used to seeing.
We also need to briefly catch you up on the many ado’s about our homestead over the last year. It was a very busy and challenging year for us and I made the decision not to work on our blog as it was an expense in both time and resources which were woefully short in number during 2018.
The two most challenging aspects of our year included a job change for me as well as a very unhelpful weather pattern that persisted all year.
The job change was due to my desire to work closer to home rather than the 1 1/2 hour commute (each way) I had been doing since moving to our farm. Unfortunately that new job which was 3 miles down the road didn’t work out and I ultimately ended up at another employer 6 months later. I’m very thankful for my new position, but the hours are quite long leaving very little time for family/farm life balance. We’re getting into a routine now, but it has certainly taken some getting used to.
As for the weather we’ve experienced in the past year, I can surely say that trying to make a living off the land is no small feat when nature throws curve ball after curve ball. Our 2018 started much colder than usual and that cold “spell” lasted longer than usual. It ended with a torrential rain system and then a sudden and quick warming trend.
The rain stopped and the temperature was so high for so long that our hay fields never really grew to their full potential. The result was that our first and second cuttings were half the size we have become accustomed to. Then came the end of summer and it hasn’t really stopped raining long enough to dry our fields so that equipment can get the remaining hay. So now what is in our fields is quite unusable. I did what I could to cut some of it by hand and store it, but one man cutting hay with a scythe when he has but an hour or two per day just doesn’t produce enough to keep our flock fed.
The unrelenting weather also made it quite difficult for us and many others from having productive food gardens this year. Those that eeked out better harvests typically spent much more time on their plots than the rest of us could.
But enough about the doom and gloom. There have been some wonderful happenings on our farm as well. In the midst of the early year cold our ewes gave us several more lambs. We’ve been happy to welcome them to our little farm and look forward to what increase we receive in 2019.
The sheep weren’t our only growth sector this year though. In September we welcomed a new baby boy into our family and he has been a true blessed addition to our hearts and home.
This is just a short welcome to 2019 and recap, as promised. I hope to be much more active on our blog this year so please stick around and see the exciting things happening at Whirldworks Farm this year.
OH! Please note that our new blog address is now: http://whirldworks.farm
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