Responsible livestock management requires investing time in reading and researching ways to improve upon what you are already doing. Not long ago I was reading an article on the topic of pasture management and to paraphrase what I read: “A good livestock producer is little more than an expert in grass.” Horticulture has never been one of my strong points, but we are making strides to make our wonderful pasture and even better and more productive environment for our animals.
Last year, towards the end of the season, our flock had grown and they were close to running out of healthy pasture and eating what they had to the ground. We made plans over the winter to improve on this and in the Spring embarked on the first phase of our pasture management program by fencing in several more acres to give the sheep access to a healthier rotation of grass. The result has been very positive and the sheep have had plenty of grass this year.
The issue we have run in to this year is that with so much rain, the grass has grown, and grown, and grown some more. So much so that in some of the pastures the grass is so tall that you can’t see the sheep! This may not seem an issue at first thought, but there are two major concerns, at least for us:
My initial and immediate response was to take the mower to the field and cut the tops off the grass. The problem was that with so much rain this year the grass grew much faster than I had the time to manage in this way. As we continued to read about this subject, we stumbled onto some articles mentioning the benefit of grazing cattle and sheep on the same pasture. Here are some of those articles:
We have really wanted to focus on our sheep production and thought long and hard about the financial, labor and other inputs required by adding cattle to our little operation. After much research, we made the decision to give it a try. If it does result in a positive experience, so much the better. If not, we are in Texas after all and we could actually earn a little extra from adding a small cattle operation.
We researched several breeds and settled on the British White. This past Saturday we spent the better part of the day driving through scenic Texas byways to a wonderful little ranch and picked up our first heifer (a young female cow that has not produced offspring). We let her into our pasture and she immediately began working on our little experiment.
The donkeys and the dogs weren’t quite sure what to think about the new arrival, but they are quickly adapting to their new reality. Ada (our new cow) spent the better part of the night and morning rather far away from the barn and other animals, but by lunch time she had already come up to me and eaten a few cattle cubes from my hand. I already think she has found a place in our hearts and makes a great addition to Whirl’d Works Farm.
Guardian animals play a very important role on our farm. With predators aplenty here we are continually evaluating and updating our defenses against bobcats, coyotes, owls, hawks and any other possible unseen dangers.
Several months ago we had the unfortunate need to relieve on of our Anatolians from her duties here on the farm. While she was initially a good guard for our flock, over timeDinah learned she could jump the fences. It was aggravating to see her daily anywhere but near the sheep. The final straw was broken when she tore into the chicken coop and ate a favorite hen. We made arrangements to give her to a friend and have been short a guard dog ever since.
We finally resolved the issue yesterday when we picked up a new dog from our friends at M Bar W White Dorpers. His name is Rusty and he’s a Pyrenese/Anatolian Sheperd mix. Introducing a new animal to the farm can be a challenge, but Rusty is already on the job.
Of the many hats we wear here on the farm, gardening remains one of my favorite activities. Even in this dreadful summer heat, one of the few things that can keep my interest outside this time of year is our garden.
It wasn’t very many years ago that my gardening efforts pretty much ended by the latter part of June. These days I try to keep something growing about 9 months a year.
One of the reasons I closed our garden over the summer was the very basic requirent of water. Plants need a lot of it over the summer months and not only was this a bit expensive, but the plants didn’t seem to thrive as well on water treated for human consumption.
The garden is still thirsty, but now we have a 1500 gallon tank that we use to collect rain water. The garden really loves this water source!
Of course it matters too what plants are grown in the summer. Most of what does well in the Spring won’t tolerate the Texas summer sun. The trick is to find plants that can handle it.
The plants in our garden right now are those I’ve found to do best in our soil in the summer. What is growing now are: bell peppers, cantaloupe, cucumbers, okra, and watermelon. There are a few tomato plants not in the picture, but they aren’t producing much at all right now. I like to try to keep a few plants alive over the summer for Fall tomatoes.
There is plenty of room in the garden for more beds and I look forward to getting that done over the Fall and Winter. I also can’t waig to finally get some matting and mulch on the ground between the beds so I don’t have to battle the grass all year.
We at Whirl’d Works Farm would like to wish all of you (in the United States of America) a truly blessed and happy Independence Day. There are few holidays that have as deep and rich a meaning as that of the 4th of July for “We the People.” I hope each of you enjoy this momentous occasion with family and friends. I also hope that each of us remembers what this day is set aside to commemorate. It seems so long ago that a few very brave citizens of England came together to forge a new path forward. Their unanimous pledge set forth a chain of events that could have ended very differently than it did. This single document that they crafted changed forever the course of global human history. This decision did not come without great debate, but it truly was a heart-felt cry for justice against a very formidable governmental power. Because we are so far removed from those days and events from long ago, we can and do take for granted the brave uncertainty in which these powerful words were composed. Each of us are familiar with some of the more often repeated lines of the Declaration of Independence, but most of may have either never read the entire document or have done so long ago and forgotten the words. I took the time to re-read the entire text and hope you can spare a few minutes to do the same.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
One of our most anticipated days of the year is shearing day and that day finally came for us during the first weekend in June! We spend all year working very hard to keep our flock happy and healthy so that the fleece we get on shearing day is long, healthy and strong. You never really know quite what you’re going to get until it is laid out before you on the skirting table.
We utilized the services of Right Choice Shearing again this year. Katie and Darian do such a wonderful job with the animals and they take great care to make sure we get the best fleece possible. If you have ever tried shearing a sheep or watched it being done, you know that it is a challenge in every regard. Those clippers are incredibly sharp, oscillating very fast and the goal is to cut the wool as close to the tender skin of a moving animal as possible without hurting them or damaging the wool. Right Choice is definitely an apt name for the service they provide.
Within the first couple of fleeces, we were very happy to see that the hard work and investment we put into making the wooden barn floors for the sheep to sleep on (instead of the sandy ground) has paid off. Last year the sand fell through the tables mesh almost like that of an hourglass. In fact, there was so much sand in our 2018 fleeces that the wool processor brought it to our attention.
The first step in getting marketable wool once it has been removed from the sheep is “skirting” the fleece. This involves laying out each individual fleece on a table and removing the parts that are felted, matted with, well, fecal matter, and the most painful of all; areas that are chock-full of vegetation (plant matter). It really is difficult to put your hands into a beautiful piece of wool and pull out large areas that you know are going to be a problem in processing.
I think our wool was in much better condition than last years, but we know that we still have some work to do. Short of keeping the sheep completely off pasture, we’re not exactly sure what can be done to drastically reduce the amount of vegetation in the wool. On a positive note, after sorting through and skirting 9 full fleeces, there was no noticeable sand build-up on the floor underneath. We did set these dirtier pieces aside so that we can experiment with them to determine if they can be used for things other than mill-processed roving and spun wool.
The next step for our mill-processed wool is to get these bags to the mill. We took out samples from each fleece for testing. My initial observation is that giving extra attention to the sheep’s mineral intake and waiting a couple extra months to get them sheared is really going to help with our staple lengths over last year’s batch (which were already pretty good). It takes many months for us to see the final result from the mill, but it is always worth the wait!
We have now begun hand-dyeing some of our wool. It feels a little nerve-racking to dump a braid of our lovely wool into these first few pots of dye not knowing exactly how it is going to turn out. Thankfully we are pleased with the initial results. There is room for improvement, but this wool takes color quite beautifully and we can’t wait to see how it looks once it is spun. It may take us some time to get these new items added to our store, but if you would like to be one of the first recipients of Whirl’d Works Dyed Wool, please contact us for details. The first two colors are a sort of Cherry-Pink and Tangerine. They look great in the photographs but even better in person!
History has always been one of those subjects that can be a challenge to teach people of just about any age. Memorizing facts and dates about people groups that are long gone and seem to have little bearing on the present is difficult, especially for children. If you can find a way to connect that history to something real and “in the present,” it makes teaching these subjects more interesting and memorable.
Take the Mycenaeans for example. This Bronze Age civilization does have an interesting history, but try convincing a six year old of that fact. Pictures of ruins and artifacts are helpful, but if you can put something physically in their hands the chance there’s a better chance for engagement. We tried this in our study this year and it was definitely helpful.
As were many thriving civilizations of the time, the Mycenaean people were a military force to be reckoned with and one of their signature pieces of armor were the unique boars tusk helmets that the soldiers wore. Naturally we could not recreate the full leather and tusk helmet in a class setting, but we could make something that resembled the helmet and engage the creative mind while teaching the facts about the people who wore them.
Attending the Texas Yarn Lovers event last month was a great experience in so many ways (you can read about that here). It was very rewarding to hear people who have been in this field for years complimenting our first batch of processed roving. We also came to the realization that while the people we met all share a common interest, this particular market is a very specialized niche and we are currently a tiny niche within that niche. If we are going to become successful at this endeavor, we are going to have to invest much more time (and money) into processing our wool even further. Here are just a few of the ways we are planning to move forward.
The spinners we have spoken with so far really do love our roving, but many of them want to spin wool that is already dyed in a rainbow of colors and patterns. There were countless examples on display at the Yarn Lovers event and we spent quite a bit of time examining these beautiful yarns and roving. The mill we had our wool processed at also had a booth at the even and it just so happened that she was doing a wool dying class. Since we had not yet colored any of our wool, she let us color one of our balls of roving in her indigo dye and it came out beautifully. There’s definitely a learning curve here, but I know we will get more interest if we put some color on our shelves.
I had seen and heard of people who do felting, but until the Yarn Lover’s event I had no idea how beautiful and versatile felting can be. One of the first things I did when we came home was dig into articles and video tutorials on both wet and needle felting. Within a few days I had already created my first piece of wet felt and we just received a needle felting kit. I’m very excited about where this could go. Now if only there were about 6 more hours in each day!
My wonderful wife who has been the inspiration for all things woolie absolutely loves to spin. But like me, there are only so many hours in a day for a busy household and farm to devote to hand spinning this beautiful Debouillet wool. She does as much as she can, but we are going to need to speed up that process if we are going to succeed at marketing our wool as yarn. Thankfully the mill that processed our wool will also machine spin it so we are planning to have a portion of this year’s wool processed into yarn. It doesn’t have quite the same look, feel, or satisfaction as hand-spun wool, but I believe this is going to be some wonderful yarn that people are going to love.
We are so very glad to have found Independence Wool and look forward to a long and happy partnership. That said, processing isn’t free and as our flock grows, so does our processing expense. We have no plans to reduce the amount of wool that we will have processed, but we are investing in our own small hoby farm equipment to process small batches of the wool here on the farm. This is yet another labor-intensive idea that also requires a not-so-small financial investment, but we think there is good reason to do some of the processing ourselves. If nothing else, the educational aspect can teach us a lot about our wool!
Further down the line is a hope to begin small weaving projects. There is so much to learn in this area that it isn’t something that either of us wants to jump in too quickly. Instead, we are going to develop the skills that we think we can master a little quicker and then slowly enter into small looms for art and craft ideas.
As you can see, the wheels of innovation are spinning wildly here on Whirl’d Works Farm! It does sound like a lot, perhaps even a bigger bite than we can chew, but then again, just three short years ago we were just moving onto the farm from our lives in the city!
We would love to hear any ideas or advice from those of you who have been involved in this “little” wool addiction for a while, so please feel free to comment on our page or send us a note on the contact page.
I realize that complaining about the weather can quickly become rather cliche’, but I happen to like a good cliche’ from time to time. It does seem almost strange to be grumbling about rain here in Central Texas considering the 5 year drought we left behind not so long ago. It is a little difficult to remember just how incredibly dry and devastating those years were for so many farmers and ranchers across Texas. Now that the rain has returned though, it seems to come in bucket after bucket. It was a sad sight to drive around the area this past winter to see so many fields still filled with wet, droopy cotton that simply could not be harvested. This season many of those same farmers have yet to be able to get cotton seed in the ground and the time for doing so has just about passed us by.
In retrospect, I think often about the farmers to our North who are dealing with an even more difficult challenge with all the flooding in the Mid-West. Thankfully, so far, the rains have only been a minor inconvenience here at Whirl’d Works Farm. When the rain is coming, we keep the sheep in the barn as it really has a tendency to mess up their beautiful wool. With shearing day quickly approaching, we are doing all we can to keep those darling sheep and their thick, fine wool fleece nice and dry. The only other issue we’ve really had to deal with was down by the creek that really flooded over during the last storm and knocked down some of our fencing. We’ve had plenty of times when the road has disappeared below the creek, but during the last downpour it was at the highest level we have ever seen it. Words alone cannot adequately describe the amount of water we witnessed draining through our property so here are a few videos to help illustrate:
On the Bright Side
As cliche’s go, with every cloud there’s a silver lining and there are some things to be thankful for. The following picture shows Texas Drought Conditions in April (On Left) and then in May (on Right). I’m not quite sure I remember seeing a map that shows the entire State of Texas being drought-free.
The amount of moisture around the farm has created the perfect environment do explore and find even more varieties of weird and fantastical fungus. I look forward to venturing into our woods sometime soon to see what new and neat varieties await our discovery, but right now it is still rather swampy back there and the mosquitoes fly in tactical squadrons! We don’t have to go far though to find new fungus as this odd, orange fungus was found growing in a flower bed near the house.
It’s just one of those funky quirks of human nature, but although right now we are all pretty much tired of all the rain, I’m pretty sure in 2-3 months we’ll be praying for it again. There’s more rain coming for now though, so if you’re in Central Texas and reading this during a downpour, here’s a few rainy day puns to brighten your day!
Rainy Day Puns
(Source: Dr. Odd)
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