Sunday, November 23, 2008


You may have heard that farming is cyclical. This is most definitely true. The seasons take on a certain resonance when the variety and type of work you do, the worry that tugs you awake at night, the hopes and sadnesses, are intimately connected with them.

For us, each season has its own "issues". Winter is about waiting it out, about hidden life growing in the bellies of the ewes, in the earth, in suddenly prodigious fleeces. Spring is lambing, an anxious, joyous, busy time. Summer finds us working to ensure the flock flourishes, worrying about parasites, chasing cute little lambie escape-artists back into the fold, rotating and rotating those scant pastures.
Fall...? Well, fall is about harvest, yes. Thanksgiving and all that. But it is also about sex, or at least, as we shepherds prefer to call it, "breeding". This is the time when we appraise our flock (Those that did not fall victim to the "Harvest" part of the season) and plan for spring lambs.

Before last year, there wasn't much of this "planning" to do. We had one single (nasty) ram, Gus. He was our breeding program, all of it. Last year, there were three eligible batchelors in Maggie's Farm's version of "The Dating Game", Charlie, Harry, and the adorable Mr. B. This year, Harry has gone on to other pastures, but we have added his offspring "Chance" and also happen to have acquired Rahm, another ram lamb with a whole other pedigree.

So we've been thinking a lot about these four gentlerams and the qualities they might pass to their offspring....
Charlie Bucket, the handsome guy at the top of this post, is the number one ram around here. He is huge and massively horned, but Charlie is a cautious soul who doesn't push his weight around much, an important trait in a ram. We like his build and his genetics as well. Oh, and Charlie is very resistent to parasites, an excellent, excellent quality.

Then there is Bombadil. This guy is a real sweetie, personality plus and not in the least aggressive, even when our crafty puppy Luka sneaks into his stall and scarfs down his meager grain dessert. Also, he brings a different set of genetics, a nice gray black fleece and a long-bodied build. He isn't the largest ram in the land, nor the most parasite resistant, but we like him anyway. Lots.

Chance is a recessive little guy-- a spotted solid moorit, carrying the genetics for the badgerfaced pattern as well-- with a really nice fleece. He has potential, and we'd like to see what he can produce with Copper and Daisy, our big, solidly built ewes.

And then there is Rahm. Rahm is 3/4ths AI from Jager Farm. He has an excellent meaty build and a nice thick fleece. He is (so far) calm as the day is long. A pretty cool cat all around. On the down side, he's got some scurs going, scurs we hope can be offset by breeding to some cleanly-polled beauties. This is a picture of Rahm, on the day he arrived. He's a bit dirty and burr-full but a real looker nontheless.

In short, fall is not all harvest and heartbreak around here. It's also about long-range planning. Long range planning and a whole lotta hope.

And so, without further ado, here are the Maggie's Farm Fall 2008 breeding groups:

In Pasture #1... Charlie with three lovely ladies: Leela, Cedar and Acorn. (Yes, Acorn is polled. But as her lambs were scurred last year, we thought we'd try her with the strongly horned Charlie in the hopes of keeping some of her superfriendly lambs in our horned flock.) Leela has a beautiful fleece, but less than stellar build. So, hopefully, Charlie will improve that aspect in her offspring.

In Pasture #2... Bombadil is hanging with the lovely Caroline. Yes, we know Caroline is horned, but she is a ewe lamb and we are hoping lambing will be a bit easier for her without the hornbuds to worry about.

In Pasture #3.... Chance with Copper and Daisy, two lovely and quite assertive ladies. Okay, Chance is not thrilled with this arrangement. The girls aren't showing him any love as yet. In fact, they are downright mean. But they are also terrific mothers and well-built genetic powerhouses, so he'll have to stick with them long enough to impart his offspring with fine soft fleeces. Also, Chance's recessive little self will tease out any latent color in these two white ewes. Copper may be homozygous for white as she has never had any lambs that were NOT white. But we know Daisy can produce solid moorit. What are these two ladies hiding? Chance will tell us.

And finally, in Pasture #4... the stolid Rahm (Yes, we did name him after THAT Rahm...) with our lovely and quite cleanly polled Penny. Rahm will also serve as our "Clean-up Ram" as well.

Here's to fall's high hopes!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ten Bags Full

Shearing day.

You gotta love it, always hectic with herding dogs herding (or trying to anyway) kids underfoot, spur-of-the-moment gatherings (Always seems to happen somehow...) and lots and lots of sheep wrestling. And in the middle of it all, Andy the shearer, as calm and cool as a guy with an upside-down sheep in his lap could be, separating animal from mineral (or fiber anyway).

What a scene! At first, the sheep look so skimpy and strange without their fleece!

Here is Penny before shearing:

Here she is after:

Not so stately, eh?

But if you're looking for raw skirted fleece, we have some nice ones. We'll be sending them off for processing in a few weeks, so let us know.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Sound of Wonder

Earlier this year, we hatched several "homegrown" eggs in a borrowed incubator.

As advertised, it was a great experience for the kids. The humming box in the corner, forgotten for most of three weeks all of a sudden became the object of intense interest as scattered pips and taps were heard within it. The first chick, "Peeper", hatched while we were getting ready for bed. But by the time the second chick kicked its way out, the kids were thoroughly engaged. And lucky for us, Dan's penchant for technological innovation and a homemade tripod resulted in our capturing this, the sound of absolute wonder (Along with a lot of extraneous family stuff):

The 8 chicks that resulted from this experiment are adolescents now, freeranging about with their cousins, aunts, uncles outside:

Sunday, November 2, 2008


A week or so out from that horrible day at the slaughterhouse, we have a freezer and a half of meat, a bit of hay money, and a little less hard feeling. Distance does that to you. Thanks to all those who offered a few kind words. I really appreciated your encouragement and wisdom.
I'm sure I'll think (and write) quite a bit more about this in the weeks to come. But it's the end of October, and my thoughts turn, quite naturally to other scary stuff:

Halloween, for one thing. The Maggie's Farm crew had a happy one. Micah, determined to be scary at all costs, morphed into "Zombie Micah". Joe, became a "spooky dude" and Anna, interested in space, the universe and everything these days, was an astronaut. Dan was a ram, or-- depending on your cultural reference points-- a refugee from Mad Max. Here they are setting off to trick or treat:

Election Day is another scary fall thing. I'm trying to be relatively apolitical here on the farm blog, but I am not keen on another 4 (or 8!) years of Republicannonsense (VERY scary indeed!) So I'll be up in Keene, New Hampshire helping get out the vote for Obama on Nov. 4th.

Have a good one, whatever your political persuasion.