Saturday, March 19, 2011

Did You Hear That?

That's the starting gun, going off to signal the start of Gardening Madness 2011.

Yes, the first seeds are in the ground. I found, somewhat to my surprise, that a part of the garden was dry enough yesterday to plant lettuce. So I planted some. Also some dill and radishes, because I came across those seeds while I was looking for the lettuce seeds and why not, right?

I noticed while I was out there that the chervil is growing nicely already, and the chives are just starting to stage their comeback. The little sprouts of the fall-planted garlic and shallots are bravely poking their green heads out of the cold ground, as well.

This was all very satisfying and cheery as I was wandering around in the sunshine yesterday, enjoying the 60-degree temperature. Then I woke up to sleet this morning.

The lettuce may not sprout for awhile yet, but it's there, ready and waiting for the warmer temperatures to return. As am I.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Photos

This Friday morning, for your entertainment, I have unloaded all the random photos that have collected on my camera from the past week. I will, of course, now share them with you because I'm the sharing type.

You are most welcome.

So! Let's start with the least-cute photo. Here we have a picture of the parsnips I dug up. With a pen for scale, because DAMN those are some ENORMOUS parsnips.

Has someone been giving these parsnips growth hormone? Really now.

Next! And significantly cuter than mutant parsnips! A. and I went down to the beach yesterday with Cubby to enjoy the crrrrazy warm weather. Cubby looked very small next to the vast lake and his burly daddy.

Small? Yes. Timid? No.
"Behold, my kingdom," says the prince. Or maybe, "Enough with the camera already, Mom."

And moving away from Cubby, adorable though he may be, to MORE adorableness. I KNOW! It never stops!


Total lamb count: Five--three girls, two boys. And four ewes left to deliver.

And there you have it, poppets! Happy random photo Friday!

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Robin* asked some questions about the lambs a couple of days ago. I didn't answer right away, because I figured she wasn't the only one who wondered about such things and I should probably do a post about it. She probably thought I blew her off. She was probably sitting there at her computer, fuming, wondering who the hell this Kristin person thinks she is, not answering my questions? What, is she too GOOD for my questions? And then she probably screamed some obscenities at the computer screen. Maybe threw something.

What? Is that my overactive imagination getting away from me again?


Let's get on with the answers, shall we?

So, are you keeping the lambs strictly for shearing or also for eating?

We don't keep sheep just for their wool. People that actually raise sheep just for wool are very finicky about keeping the fleece clean, making the sheep wear little jackets and other things that are way too high-maintenance for us. If we do keep the ewe lambs, it will be to increase the size of the flock and therefore the number of lambs we'll have for slaughter in the future.

Is there a difference between male and females for slaughtering?

I'm not entirely sure what this question is asking, but the males tend to grow faster, and so are bigger when it comes time for slaughter. Male lambs are pretty much always for meat, because you only need one male for a whole bunch of females.

Is one more valuable than the other?

Monetarily, no, not when they're sold for butchering. At least, we don't charge more for one or the other. Though a female animal is generally more valuable to the owner because females beget more animals.

Do they taste different?

WELL. Funny you should ask! We discovered last year, when we had one male lamb that grew a lot faster than the others, that males that reach sexual maturity are, um, strong tasting. A. would say flavorful. He likes the taste. The word I would use is "rank." Because I do not like it. This is why many people castrate male lambs. I don't think there's a difference in flavor between females and castrated or immature males. At least, we never noticed one.

Also, you didn't ask this but I will tell you anyway that there ARE quite big differences in taste between breeds. Cotswolds (of which we have four) are known for their mild flavor. The Merinos (of which we have three) have a stronger taste. So, if you like your lamb so mild it might as well be beef (hi!), then Cotswold lambs are great. If you like your lamb to taste like, well, lamb (hi, everyone else in my house!), then a different breed of lamb might be better. All a matter of taste.

What are you going to do with the wool this year?

We've been stockpiling the wool from previous years and, if we have enough after this shearing to meet the minimum required weight, we'll get it spun into yarn at a nearby woolen mill. At which point it could, obviously, be knit into useful things by crafty types. I do not count myself among them, but the MiL (and many other people we know) knits.

There! Any more questions, class?

* HAAA!!! You HAVE to click to Robin's website to see the recipe she has up today. The humor, it is substantial.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Busy Day--Blackrock-style

4:30 a.m. yesterday--Baby awake. Right. Baby. Milk. Baby. Aaaand, back to bed.

6 a.m.--Better get up. Do not want to get up. But better get up. Coffee. Woodstove. Dogs. Oatmeal. Computer. More coffee.

7:30 a.m.--Jason arrives, get A. out of bed, deliver coffee to the menfolk playing with fire outside. Find fireproof gloves, diapers for straining, mesh strainer for skimming. Then strip the sheets off the bed and put in the washer with towels.

7:45 a.m.--Cubby is awake. Change the baby, dress the baby, shovel oatmeal in the baby's face. Commence morning play session.

9:15 a.m.--Cubby back asleep. Wash jars needed later for syrup, plus the breakfast dishes while I'm at it. Sweep the kitchen floor for the first of three times during the day. Hang the laundry outside (yes! outside! warm enough! WHEEE!!!). Help A. dock Bonnie's lambs' tails. Dispose of dismembered tails so dogs don't play with them.

10 a.m.--Cubby is awake. Damn. So much for a long morning nap. Change the baby, put shoes and coat on the baby, and haul baby outside for entertainment near a large, smoking, burning hot metal drum. Best baby entertainment ever.

11:30 a.m.--Leave Cubby outside for male bonding while I make lunch. Leftover beef stew, grilled cheese sandwiches, apples.

12:00 p.m.--Lunch. Feed self, baby, and the two syrup makers. Then outfit baby again for more outside play time. Wander around outside, squish through the mud, prevent Cubby from grabbing at rusty metal/dog poop/splintery bits of wood/barbed wire.

1 p.m.--Guy who did our roof last summer shows up randomly to see if A. has a piece to a trailer hitch needed to haul a sailboat to the lake. No.

1:15 p.m.--Cubby back asleep. Back outside to pick up sticks and rake in the dog pen. A. announces one of the Merinos is in the barn with lamb feet sticking out her rear end. A. goes to check the sap in the buckets, I finish the dog pen and go to check on the lamb. Lamb has been born. After waiting a bit to let Mother Merino finish licking it and bond, A. and I go up with the iodine to treat the umbilical cord, then A. carries the lamb down to the paddock near the house, with me coming along behind Mother Merino to herd her along. Then back inside to make spaghetti sauce for dinner. Second sweeping of the kitchen floor.

3:15 p.m.--Cubby awake and back outside for more entertainment.

4:45 p.m.--Bring a hungry Cubby inside for some yogurt.

5 p.m.--Syrup is done. Strain it and start putting it in jars. A. takes Cubby and I finish dinner and the syrup jarring while he wrangles.

5:45 p.m.--Dinner. The MiL arrives home as we're eating. Jason leaves after dinner and A. goes outside to check on Mother Merino and baby. Mother is not letting lambie nurse and her udder is swollen. The MiL goes outside with A. to milk Mother Merino and feed the lamb with a bottle. Cubby and I stay inside.

6:45 p.m.--Cubby's bath and then bedtime. Thank God for a baby with a regular bedtime.

7:15 p.m.--Outside to take laundry off the line, then start heating water to do mountains of dishes covering every surface in the kitchen. Have to wait until after A. takes a shower before starting the dishes, though.

8 p.m.--Dishes. More dishes. Yet more dishes. HOW THE HELL DO WE PRODUCE THIS MANY DIRTY DISHES IN A 9-HOUR PERIOD? Third and final sweeping of our filthy, filthy kitchen floor.

9 p.m.--Bedtime, crawl my weary way upstairs, where . . . no sheets on the bed. Because I washed them. Shit. Make bed.

9:15 p.m.--Collapse into bed.

4:30 a.m. today--Baby awake . . .

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Winter Marches On

But not for long. There are many signs of the passage of time and the imminent arrival of real spring. Which I shall now lay out for you in a handy if somewhat trite list format. Because I'm original like that.

1) Jason is coming today to run the evaporator and make more maple syrup. But I think this might be the last time, because the nights are going to get warmer, which means the sap will stop running.

2) Snowdrops! Snowdrops everywhere! The first brave little flower of spring is all over the place, a small taste of the riot of spring flowers to come. YAY! The spring flowers are my favorite.

3) I dug up the last of the parsnips and leeks yesterday, thereby harvesting the last of last year's garden.

4) Which means it's time to start on this year's garden. As soon as the soil dries out a little more, I can plant lettuce. Tomato seeds will be started in the bathroom in just a couple of weeks. Tomato seeds that will grow into delicious, delicious tomatoes. And the full-on Tomato Crazy.

5) It's supposed to be in the fifties today. WITH SUN.

I may just pass out from spring fever and excitement.

Monday, March 14, 2011

All About the Sheep

I mean, what else could today's post be about, really? The first lambs of the season born yesterday AND the shearing? All about the sheep, indeed.

So! Shearing first! Only because I'm mean and like to make you wait until the very end for the much-coveted and oftentimes shrilly-demanded lamb photos.

Buncha harpies, the lot of you.


Shearing. Yes.
The woolly before shot.

We love our shearer. We love that he will come out to shear only seven sheep. We love how nice he is to the sheep, talking to them and telling them what good girls they are. We love how knowledgeable he is about sheep, having grown up on a huge sheep operation himself, which he still helps to run. And we love how he charges only whatever the shepherd thinks is fair and can afford. He is, to put it mildly, a very nice guy.

He is also a very good shearer.

The woolly action shot.

It takes him less than an hour to shear our small flock, and he doesn't even mention what a pain in the ass it is that our three Merino ewes have undocked tails. We know it is a pain to shear undocked sheep, but we bought those Merinos from some people who raised their sheep "naturally," which included not docking lambs' tails. And if the tails aren't docked before the lambs are about a week old, it becomes less like snipping off a tiny little annoyance and more like major surgery. So we have three undocked sheep, but our shearer just works around their tails.

Still in action. Less woolly all the time.

Notice the very nice platform A. constructed to get both the shearer and the sheep out of the nasty mudbath that was the shed. The shearer very much appreciated this dry, solid platform. I get the distinct impression that he has done his share of shearing sheep in the field and much prefers to have a floor to work on.

The shepherd's crook, by the way, was a great success. Whenever it was time to get the next sheep out of the pen, A. would just step in, snag it around the neck with the crook, and grab it to wrestle it to the gate. Things go much faster when you're not actually chasing sheep around the pen. Imagine that.

So, 45 minutes after getting his machine buzzing and clipping . . .

Wool? What wool? I have no wool.

Okay, they actually do have SOME wool left--enough to keep them warm, anyway. And Bonnie did get sheared after all, despite her very recent lambing. The shearer said it was okay, and he knows WAY more about sheep than we do, so we went with his expert opinion.

And speaking of Bonnie and her procreation!


I know you can only see one whole lamb in that picture and one lamb butt, but you'll just have to trust me that there are two whole lambs there, both of which are girls. And since we no longer have Donnie (R.I.P.) and don't have to worry about inbreeding, we might actually keep the ewe lambs this year.

Now to start thinking of names . . .

Sunday, March 13, 2011


The sheep shearer is coming today. Last year was the first year we ever had a professional come to do the shearing and it was GLORIOUS. It's going to be even more glorious this year, though, for two reasons.

First, I didn't just have a baby five weeks ago. For anyone planning on having a baby in the future, let me just go ahead and tell you that chasing sheep around a dog pen is not the ideal activity five weeks post-partum. You know, in case you ever find yourself five weeks post-partum and with this choice to make: Chase sheep? Or collapse on the couch while the baby sleeps?

Go with the couch. Trust me on this one.

Second, and related to chasing sheep around a pen, I got A. a shepherd's crook for Christmas this year. ( This one, in case you're in the market for a shepherd's crook.) This means that he can now stand in the middle of the aforementioned dog pen and snag all the sheep without having to move a step. In theory, this means my only contribution to the shearing will be sorting the wool and putting it in bags. That's much better than participating in the sheep rodeo.

Plus! This year Cubby can come outside to watch, escorted by his vigilant grandmother, of course, as the rest of us are going to be a wee bit too distracted to pay close attention to a toddler in the middle of a flock of sheep.

The fun never really ends at Blackrock.

Edited to Add: Know what else never really ends at Blackrock? Surprises. When A. went out this morning to get the sheep into the dog pen, he found that Bonnie had produced two splendid lambs last night. Alrighty then. Mother and babies are just fine, though I don't know if Bonnie can be sheared so soon after giving birth.