Hay Scene

This was the scene in the hayfield on Sunday afternoon. Norm was mopping up the last windrows with the round baler. Zoe and Farley cavorted through the behomoth round bales and chewed on stubble.

Making round bales. Foxfire Fiber

Dogs in hayfield. Foxfire Fiber
Zoe Hayfield. Foxfire Fiber

Zoe, Farley with giant bale. Foxfire Fiber
It’s been a tricky summer haywise. June’s monsoons flooded our fields like rice paddies. Haymaking has happened in the sporadic dry intervals amidst the off and on showery weather. We’ve yet to get all of first cut off the fields which means our second cut will be close to nil this year. Second cut is what we feed our sheep in winter. Lord knows where that will come from – and at what cost.

The upside of a wettish summer is our pastures are in decent condition. With summer grazing plentiful, our work has been a matter of turning the flock from field to the next every few weeks. The rams and wethers are in the high pasture; the ewe flock down below.

Sorry for the long blog hiatus. My next post will be sheep and wool focused, and I’ve got more big news to share.  But for now,  I just wanted to pop in and share a bit of what’s happening  – and some funny dog antics from the hayfield.

Categories: animals/wildlife, fiber farm, and sheep.

We Had Visitors!

Sheep stroll at Strolling of Sheep. LLM. Foxfire Fiber
Last weekend our Sheep Shares CSA members and their guests flocked Springdelle Farm for our annual summer social event – the Strolling of the Sheep. I love this event. There's no better time of year to showcase our lush, verdant fields and to put our flock on center stage. Here are a few scenes from the day.

Welcome table at Strolling of Sheep. LLM. Foxfire Fiber

Sheep closeup at Strolling of Sheep. LLM. Foxfire Fiber

Crackerjack Grin at Strolling of Sheep. LLM. Foxfire Fiber

Of course Crackerjack, our guardian llama, received his share of the limelight. As did our mini donkeys, Cupcake, Prissy and Dulce who quickly made themselves the center of attention.

Curious donkeys at Strolling of Sheep. LLM. Foxfire Fiber

Prissy donkey at Strolling of Sheep. LLM. Foxfire Fiber

The donks seemed to think any gathering is all about them. They quickly mobbed the guests for attention. So part of the afternoon became a donkey groom-a-thon. They couldn't get enough.

Brushing donkeys at Strolling of Sheep. LLM. Foxfire Fiber

Donkey groomathon at Strolling of Sheep. Foxfire Fiber

Our youngest visitor, PIppin, a Soay-Icelandic bottle lamb brought by my assistant Kathryn, found a shady bower beneath the red maple and took a nap during show and tell. I could easily fill a separate post to show and tell you about our show and tell. An amazing array of sweaters, shawls, vests, mitts and mittens. Near the end of the afternoon we cast on for our Cormo Classic Knit-A-Long. Cormo Classic is our newest farm yarn, a 3-ply worsted weight destined to be a favorite.

Pippin bottle lamb at Strolling of Sheep. Foxfire Fiber

Thank you to my Sheep Shares CSA members for making this one of the warmest, most convivial gatherings ever at Springdelle Farm. It was wonderful to see so many of you, especially first-time visitors.

Also thank you to Lisa McGuire for sharing her lovely photos to round out this post.

Categories: animals/wildlife, Craft, fiber farm, Handspinning, knitting, and sheep.

Fleece Show at Mass. Sheep & Woolcraft Fair

Every spring on shearing day I hold aside a handful of special fleeces from my flock. Sometimes it's a fleece from a sheep who holds a dear place in my heart. And some fleeces are simply masterpieces of wool, crimp and lanolin. We keep our eyes peeled those truly special fleeces on shearing day.

After a shorn sheep stands, shakes and scrambles from the shearing board we take a minute to examine the goods. If the goods are super-good, then everyone pauses to pull locks, fondle and admire. Back in March, that was the case for a number of fleeces.Those fleeces did not travel with the rest to the fiber mill. I rolled them carefully and stowed them in the wool shed.

When packing up last Friday for the Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair I stuffed those special fleeces into the back of my Volvo along with my shelving racks and tote bins filled with yarn. These five were destined for the fleece competition at the festival: two moorit fleeces (one from Latte and Cognac); a snowy white Cormo fleece from Dune; Issey's dazzling white Cormo Cross fleece; and a stunning silver, speckled fleece from Cilantro, a burly Cormo Cross-bred wether.

In the moments before the start of the festival Saturday morning, after putting finishig touches on my booth, I hustled over to the Exhibit Hall to enter my fleeces in the show. Judging takes place behind closed doors. I spent the morning manning my booth. Saturday's weather set a record for the coldest, dampest, rainiest Memorial Day in recent years – at least for the Mass. Sheep & Wool. Neverthless, intrepid fiberists donned in foul weather gear filed through the barns and stalls. My little stall under the grandstand was drafty, but dry. 

At 2 pm the exhibit hall opened up to the public. I took a break from my booth to see how we fared in the fleece competion.

When I stepped into the exhibit hall, I looked immediately at the fleece show results posted on the wall. I was elated to see beside the words "Grand Champion" was my name. But it didn't tell me whose fleece this was. I quickly made my way down the aisle toward the only fleece weraing a purple rosette. On this cold, drear day my heart was warmed to discover that Cilantro, my most ornery, robust wether, had captured top honors in the fleece show.

His flockmates also fared well: Dune took first in the Purebred Fine White Wool class; Latte took second place (to Cilantro) in the colored fine wool class; Issey took a red ribbon in the Cross bred class.


Grand Champion Fleece. Cilantro. MA Sheep Wool. Foxfire Fiber

Poor Cognac didn't take a ribbon at all. Although she has a gorgeous fleece that received very nice comments from the judge, other fleeces captured the judge's fancy in her class. I wished I could have spent more time studying all the fleeces in that hall, but I had to get back to business in my booth.

As it turns out, Cognac had another entry, of sorts, in the competitions at the wool festival.

Kat Parks,  my former farm assistant, happens to be a terrific photographer. She had entered two photos she had taken of my sheep in the sheep photography competition. Before leaving the Exhibit Hall, I stopped at the photo competition table.

I was delighted to see that Kat's photo – of my ewe Cognac and another ewe Pumpkin- had garnered the blue ribbon in the sheep photo contest.

With her permission I'm sharing it here:

Kat Park's blue ribbon sheep photo, Pumpkin and Cognac.

A lovely profile shot. Great Although Cognac's fleece didn't win any prizes in the fleece show, her pretty face helped woo the judges in the photo competition.  

Congrats to Kat, for taking terrific sheep photos – and to Cilantro and his flockmates for growing awesome fleeces. And congrats, Cognac and Pumpkin, for being photogenic.

Thank you to the many volunteers who make this show happen and to everyone who braved the elements to attend the fair and stopped by Foxfire Fiber & Designs. What lousy weather, but still a good day. Great to see so many familiar faces.

Categories: animals/wildlife, Craft, Current Affairs, fiber farm, Handspinning, and sheep.

Wool Away!

"Wool Away!" is the command given by the shearer to the "fleece-o" to pick up the freshly shorn fleece after a shorn ewe exits the shearing board. In the lingo of a "down under" shearing shed, the "sheep-o" pulls sheep from the holding pen and walks her onto the shearing board; the shearer shears; the "broomie" sweeps away the fribs, dags and bellywool; and after the sheep is shorn, the fleece-o tosses the fleece pizza-dough style minus the spin – onto the skirting table. The skirters then get to work.

Since we are a small operation, our "sheep-o" often doubles as "broomie"; shearer also serves as fleece-o. So Andy is the one who scoops up the fleece souffle from the board and throws it onto the skirting table.

I had a battalion of skirters Saturday! It was our Sheep Shares Yarn & Fiber CSA members shearing celebration. Sheep Shares members from near and far arrived (some brought family and friends). Skirting wool was a team effort.

Shearer at work. Foxfire Fiber

 We oohed and ahhed and fondled and pat and boxed wool all day. By lunchtime, our fingers glistened with lanolin. When our hands got cold (it was darn brisk in the wind outside the barn) we buried our fingers in the warmth of the wool. The shorn sheep were funneled into a pen in the carriage barn. We kept the south doors wide open to let in the sun's warmth.

Wool fondling. Foxfire Fiber

We took breaks for trail mix, muffins, coffee – and to play with Meg, Andy's energetic border collie pup.

Meg, the Border Collie, fetches. Foxfire Fiber

Meg, border collie, chases sticks. Foxfire Fiber
By mid morning we were giddy with the heady fragrance of sheep and fresh clipped wool.

Cormo wool tulips. Foxfire Fiber
We sheared our granny ewes too. Here's Pansy (below), a thirteen-year old granny, getting a special snack. And a pretty lock of Pansy's wool, above. 

Pansy, Cormo ewe. Foxfire Fiber

While we helped Andy pack up his gear, the flock in the Carriage Barn basked in the afternoon sun.

Shorn Cormo Ewes. Foxfire Fiber

 After the the last fleece was boxed, we trundled up the road for a pancake lunch at Davenports Maple Farm Restaurant. The sap is still running up here on Patten Hill, but this will be the last weekend before the Sugar House restaurant closes for the season.

Sheep Shares gang at Sugar House. Foxfire Fiber

We filled three tables. Pancakes, waffles, eggs, maple syrup and more coffee filled our bellies. Knitting filled our hands. It was a satisfying ending to a morning of hard work. A big thanks to the Davenports for hosting our lunch – and a huge thanks to our Sheep Shares members and their guests for helping Andy, Mike and I finish up the flock.

Boxes of fleeces. Foxfire Fiber

Tomorrow morning I load boxes and boxes of fleece into my truck. As soon as I finish morning chores, I'm headed to FedEx and the fleeces are headed for the fiber mill.

For 2013, it's "wool away."


Note: Wool Away is the title of renowned shearer Godfrey Bowen's book about the art and technique of shearing – hard to come by since it's out of print, but a fascinating read if you can find a copy.

Categories: animals/wildlife, fiber farm, knitting, and sheep.

Another Day in the Shearing Shed

Shearing Cormo ewe. Foxfire Fiber


Shearing close up. Foxfire Fiber
Shearing moorit sheep. Foxfire Fiber
Meg, Border Collie on shearing Day. Foxfire Fiber

Meg border collie. Foxfire Fiber
Border collie on bales. Foxfire Fiber
Holly Skirting Fleece. Foxfire Fiber
These photos were taken during last Friday's shearing. We were fortunate to have more spring-like weather and luckier yet to have Holly and Meg pitch in for the day! We still have about a third of the flock left to shear.
Saturday is our shearing open house for our Sheep Shares Yarn & Fiber CSA members and their guests. We'll be posting photos on Instagram (look for them under BarbParry) throughout the day.
Categories: animals/wildlife, fiber farm, and sheep.

Ready, Set, Shear!

On Friday we rolled up our sleeves and got to work on one of my favorite days in annual cycle of yarn farming.

Shearing day!

This year we've divided the work of shearing our flock over three days, last Friday, next Friday and then Saturday April 6 – when our Sheep Shares yarn farm CSA members will join us and pitch in. Working at this pace gives me time to be hands on with both sheep and fleece and makes for a relaxed, more comfortable day for both humans and sheep.

Rams Ready for Shearing Day. FoxfireFiber
We started with a group of ewes, below. Followed by the big wooly rams and wethers, above.

Sheep in crowd pen on shearing day. FoxfireFiber
Sheep surfing. FoxfireFiber
In the process of me leading the rams into the crowd pen where they wait their turn, the boys managed to trap me in the middle of the pen. Literally, I couldn't budge. Since I didn't need shearing, I took the best route – rolling over the backs of the sheep (I certainly wasn't about to go under them). It reminded me of rolling on a plush-pile, wool carpet, well, except for the distinct ram-aroma. Once I launched myself from the pen (with Mike pulling out by the arms), we got down to business.
Ram and Shearer. Chai. Foxfire Fiber
This our shearer Andy. The wooly monster is Chai, our Merino cross Moorit ram who looked more grizzly bear than sheep, before his haircut.
Rams after shearing. Foxfire Fiber
And here are the naked sheep, post haircut. Left to right: Cilantro, Calvin, BoBo and Fennel. We'll keep them in the barn, protected from the wind until their fleece regrows a bit. Hopefully, more spring-like weather is on the way soon.
Flying Fleece. Foxfire Fiber

Fleeces flew from the shearing board to the skirting table.
Irresistible Cormo Wool. Foxfire Fiber
Ivy, a skirter in training, swooned for the intoxicating fragrance of fresh Cormo wool.
Ivy and Kathryn at skirting table. Foxfire Fiber
It was lovely to have my former assistant, Kathryn join us for the day!
Armful o' wool. Foxfire Fiber
We boxed these beauties right up.Two hundren pounds of Cormo fleeces are already en route to the fiber mill, less than twenty-four hours hot off the sheep that grew them. How's that for a fast turn-around?
Naturally, I saved some very special fleeces to enter in upcoming fleece competions: Cilantro (super fine, mottled silver and black); Chai (rich, chocolately Moorit); Latte (delectable au lait Moorit – even finer than Chai); and Issey (crimpy, cloud-like white Cormo cross). We'll see how they measure up to the competition, starting at the Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair in May.
Cormo Wool Close Up. Gorgeous. Foxfire Fiber
An exhausting yet exhilerating day. One group down, two to go.
Shepherd laying down on the job. Foxfire Fiber

Thank you to Friday's shearing team:
Mike (indentured husband, administerer of warm water and fresh hay to the flock after their haircuts)
Andy Rice (my shearer of 16 years)
Fred Davenport (farm assistant, expert sheepo)
Kathryn Swanson (studio assistant, expert in all matters and maker of very cool leather earrings)
Ivy (Kathryn's cousin – who was a fast learner and up for everything!)
Kangaroo Dyer Gail & her husband Bill Callahan
Caleb Kissling (friend and sweeper extrordinaire – says he would pay me to help on shearing day, if I wasn't nice enough to let him work for free)
Also, thanks to Kathryn Swanson for sharing her lovely photos to round out this post.
Categories: animals/wildlife, Craft, Current Affairs, fiber farm, Handspinning, sheep, and Weblogs.

Taking Care of Old Sheep in Winter

Cocoa. Foxfire Fiber
This is Cocoa. She turns 16 this month which is ancient in sheep years. Cocoa has a special place in our hearts as she happens to be one of our first-ever sheep which makes her our flock matriarch. After a decade of lambing (including sets of triplets and quadruplets) she is still going strong, except for her teeth. Years of grass-grazing and ha -munching have worn her incisors (the front teeth) crookedlly, some of them right down to the nub givng her the gap-toothed smile of a jack-o-lantern.Last fall Andy performed some dentistry on her, to even out her bite. It helped some with grazing. Her grinding molars in the way back of her mouth seem to be operating well. I can't see them, but I can tell by the way she crunches and munches on grain.

This winters's proven hard on her – she's had trouble pulling hay from the manger. When she grabs a mouthful from the feeder, you can hear the blades of grass slide through her gums. When we noticed a delcine in her condition we started supplementing her with high protein alfalfa cubes from the feed store. They are compressed alfalfa hay in nugget form. We dump a handful into a pan, soak them in hot water to soften them up, like a bowl of shredded wheat cereal. Cocoa can't wait for us to place the bowl on the floor inside her pen. She stands on her hind legs, with her forelegs perched on the rungs of the blue panel.

Who doesn't like a hot breakfast on a cold morning?

Alfalfa cubes for Cocoa's Breakfast. Foxfire Fiber

Later this week we begin shearing, starting with our rams and wethers. They'll be kept indoors after their haircuts, until they've grown a bit of fleece. Hopefully by then, the season will take a turn for the warmer. I'll post some pics to share with you.

Cocoa and our other "grannies" will wait until milder days in April for their spring haircuts.

Happy Monday to all.

Categories: Uncategorized.

Snowed In

Winter sheep after the snow. foxfire fiber
Snow's so deep, the sheep won't leave the barn unless we make them. We break paths for them and lure them outdoors with hay on fair days.

Today is not one of those days. It's been snowing sideways since I opened my eyes at 6 a.m. Fat, wet snow that shovels like concrete. Mike is scrambling to clear the driveway before this switches over to rain later – then we'll have a hot mess on our hands. A cold mess, I should say.

It's been a wind-roaring, snow falling, frost heaving, ice damming, nose freezing winter – wearing us down and out, like a guest who's overstayed its welcome. Perhaps you feel the same way. 

The sheep are more stoic and don't whine about it. They're dressed for the weather, 24/7, swaddled in wool. I don't think they mind one bit. They tuck into the barn, noses pointed downwind, legs folded beneath them in the straw, chewing their cud. Since they're getting so little exercise and consuming a ton of hay, they are happy, fat, wide and wooly sheep. 

I've sited bluebirds twice in the two weeks and robins down at the farm. Shearing begins next month. Surely spring's not far away.

Please leave a comment and let me know, how are you faring this winter?

Zoe Farley watching snow fall. Foxfire Fiber

Categories: animals/wildlife, fiber farm, and sheep.

Top of the Hay Stack

When it comes to barn chores on winter mornings, Mike is a trooper. Since the start of the new year, I've been under the weather off and on. He's been a super good sport about tackling morning barn chores solo for the better part of last four weeks. In mid winter, morning chores on a New England sheep farm are like an endurance test. You work quickly and efficiently.

Inside the carriage barn where the rams spend the winter, square bales of hay are neatly stacked from the floor to the rafters. The stack is beside the row of feeders outside the sheep pen. By removing bales from the side of the stack, we create steps to the top of the hay stack. We feed from the top and work our way down. This stack was rafter high in November. Now it's about two thirds that height, which turns out to be a very good thing.


Let me start by commenting on barn chores, which can feel tedious at this time of year. As with any set of routine tasks, you tend to operate on autopilot. Don't we all have tasks that we perform almost by rote each day, without second thought? Walking the dog, taking out the trash, scraping a frozen windshield.

Feeding sheep is like that. Climb the stack of hay bales. Yank a few bales by the twine – send them to the floor. Descend hay stack. Cut strings. Drop flakes into the feeders. The process takes ten minutes, maybe less.

While doing morning chores Wednesday, as Mike reached for the strings on a top bale, the bale on which he was standing kicked out from the stack sending him reeling backwards. Reflexively he grasped for the only objects within arms reach (more hay bales). But as Mike tumbled,  so did nearly all the square bales on the north face of the hay stack.

Had he had landed amidst the tumbled bales, the outcome would have been less painful. Unfortunately for Mike, the hay feeder closest to the hay stack broke his fall. Our hay mangers are plywood troughs, about 8 feet long. The inside is V shaped, with a slanted wire mesh panel on the front facing the sheep and a slanted plywood panel on the back facing the shepherd. Mike landed inside the V, catching the edge of the outer plywood on his leg. 

Sheep are use to seeing hay flakes, not people, dropped into their manger at breakfast. They all bolted out through the small door you can see in the pic above.

While Mike was stranded in the hay feeder – trying to assess the damage to his leg and backside – I was bustling about the farm getting ready for a meeting in Greenfield with my bookkeeper. Right about the time he was pulling himself out of the manger I was just yards away in the dairy barn collecting employee time slips for payroll. Instead of calling me (he said he heard my car running outside), he brushed the chaff from his parka and finished feeding the sheep. Then he headed home to ice his leg.

I didn't hear this story until I returned home early afternoon. Aside from a spectacularly colorful bruise mid thing, Mike is unscathed. Very darn lucky – this could have been a disaster. Sometimes I tease Mike – as rugged as he is, he seems at times too accident prone for farming.

He texted me the above photo of the boys lounging in the barn, taken in a peaceful moment just before his tumble from the top of the haystack. 

This post is a cautionary tale – beware of the mundane, stay mindful in daily tasks. And keep your smart phone in your pocket during barn chores!

Cormo rams in winter. Foxfire Fiber

Categories: animals/wildlife, fiber farm, Handspinning, and sheep.