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All Excess Animals Sold But Reservations Open For 2016 Lambs

2015 has been a good year with healthy interest in registered Babydoll breeding stock.  The flock has been pared down to the essential numbers for my farm going into breeding season and winter.  This season I will be using only one babydoll ram (Winslow), who is off-white, 18 months old and a proven ram.  I anticipate 10 to 12 registerable lambs next spring – probably all off-white – from 6 ewes (Claire, Nina, and Sara (off-white) and Fergie, Penny, and Hattie (black)).  

The experimenter in me has led to the purchase of a brown/badgerfaced Finn ram to breed just 3 of my ewes (Olivia, Tammy, and Abigail).  As much as I love my Babydolls, this will introduce 4 traits they don’t possess: another color (brown), longer fiber, a sheen to their fleece (but may detract from the lovely springiness), and a greater probability of multiple births. With multiple births I may have fewer losses from problematic deliveries as twins are generally smaller than singles. My ewes are definitely of adequate condition to carry multiple lambs and nurse them successfully. I am also redoubling my efforts to prevent 2 of my ewe lambs (Adrien and Audrey) from being bred their first season. I will compare their growth and performance with Abigail,  the one ewe lamb that will be bred.  Finn crosses are also known for their exceptional vigor as lambs.  Depending on the number born, some of the lambs may be available for sale, though I may need to wait until later in the summer to sell so I can evaluate what the fleece characteristics will be.  I expect off-white and black lambs from these parings as brown is a recessive trait.

Fiber Farming Update

Things appear to be taking off on the fiber front. I prepared materials explaining my fiber offerings for sale and sent them to a couple of potential customers and received good feedback from both. North House Folk School in Grand Marais, MN and Blue Heron yarn shop in Decorah, IA both expressed interest in buying rovings. I will continue to do direct market sales at fiber events but this will enable me to move more volume. The direct sales margins are better but the time invested is also seriously greater.

Brochures highlighting rovings for retail outlets and class materials use.

Brochures highlighting rovings for retail outlets and class materials use.

Shepherd’s Harvest Festival May 15 – 17

This coming weekend is one of Minnesota’s big events for fiber folks. It’s held at the Washington County fair grounds in Lake Elmo, an eastern suburb of St. Paul. In addition to lots of classes on everything from fiber animal care to dying fiber for special effects, there is a LARGE assortment of vendors with their wares.

I will be selling my Babydoll and Shetland fiber at the Natural Fiber Alliance booth. It will be in all conditions from fleeces “in the grease” to spun yarn and batts. My first lot of processed wool will be back from Dakota Fiber Mill, so there are even more colors to choose from – think coated black lamb!!! Another new item is rovings made from a Babydoll/alpaca blend. Scrumptuous!

http://shepherdsharvestfestival.org/

A sampling of the fiber that will be for sale next weekend (or any day on-line). It does not include items yet from this year's shearing, like super black lamb and a wool/alpaca blend.

A sampling of the fiber that will be for sale next weekend (or any day on-line). It does not include items yet from this year’s shearing, like super black lamb and a wool/alpaca blend.

 

Shearing Day 2015

Saturday, March 21st, was a beautiful sunny day and a fine day for shearing the flock.  The work crew assembled for lunch prior to the activity and final set-up for the maturnity pens was completed.  We had a crew of six plus the shearer himself.  One person fetched the sheep, one shut opened and shut the gate, one flipped the sheep on their rump, one scooped up the fleece, one folded and bagged the fleece, and the final one swept up the belly wool between animals.  It was quite the circus.  I was the one fetching the sheep, which also entailed removing and, when time permitted, replacing coats on the yearling ewes.  The fleeces look wonderful and I’m hoping for some time between Lamb Watches to get some skirting done. Preliminary weights of unskirted greasy fleece are: 35 pounds off-white Babydoll, 31 pounds colored Babydoll, 2.5 pounds silver Shetland and 2.75 pounds black Shetland.

Fred with Noir on deck for shearing.

Fred with Noir on deck for shearing.

Mature ewes awaiting shearing.

Mature ewes awaiting shearing.

Sara with newly completed runs for expectant ewes and new families.

Sara with newly completed runs for expectant ewes and new families.

The harvesting of J.C.'s megafleece.

The harvesting of J.C.’s megafleece.

The newly shorn yearling ewes with coats reapplied.

The newly shorn yearling ewes with coats reapplied.

Yours Truly with bags of fleece hung for drying in the greenhouse.

Yours Truly with bags of fleece hung for drying in the greenhouse.

 

Babydoll batts now available

Yesterday I picked up the first batts made from the wool of my Babydoll Southdown sheep from the fiber mill. They are wonderfully lofty! Each weighs approximately 12 ounces and measures 24″ x 36″ x 3″. Because of the layering manner in which they are made, they can be easily split to half that thickness (1.5″), if desired. I’m planning on playing with one myself – not sure if I’ll make a vest or a lap robe insert first. The rest are available for purchase at $18 each.  I have 5 off-white and 2 dark brown. 

P15-0269e individual batt 24 x 36 P15-0270e batt closeup P15-0272e 6 batts

2014 Fleeces

I will be offering individual raw fleeces for sale from this spring’s clip. Shortly after shearing I will post weights to the web page along with close-up photos of the surface of each fleece and samples of individual locks/staples.  The coated fleeces will be skirted to sell just the area covered by the coats.  Unfortunately, due to my inexperience at this, I will not be able to set a per pound price until I see the quality (cleanliness, color, and staple length) of each fleece.  I expect the prices to range from $16/pound for adult off-white fleece (averaged 5.75# per ewe last year; 8# for Edwin and J.C.) to $22/pound for coated black lambs. I’m guessing about 4# each after considering 25% not covered.  *This year the adult fleeces will have 2 weeks’ less growth than last – 52 vs. 54 weeks. 

If you care to reserve the “right of first refusal” for any, please let me know.  I am reserving Rachel’s fleece for personal use.

Here are some close-up photos I took last week of some of the adult black sheeps’ coats as a preview.

P15-0173c Fergie's wool

 

Fergie (Babydoll ewe) 

Butterscotch on surface, dark charcoal at skin

2014 clip stats: produced 6# raw fleece, 62% > 2″

 

 

 

P15-0174c Hattie's wool

 

Hattie (Babydoll ewe)

Fading faster than Fergie although same age. 

2014 clip stats: produced 5.4# raw fleece, 54% > 2″, taupe, soft!

 

 

 

P15-0176c J.C. wool
J. C. (Babydoll ram)

Still dark at the skin! 2014 color of main fleece = dark walnut (britch and gray portions, especially from head processed separately)

2014 clip stats: produced 8# raw fleece, 77% > 2″

 

 

 

P15-0178c Noir wool

 

 Noir (Shetland wether)

Black at skin, warm chocoate brown at tips.  Full year’s coat

Expect serious vegetative matter – will be priced accordingly.

No 2014 data and he’s a little dude.

 

 

P15-0177c Moonshadow wool

 

Moonshadow (Shetland wether)

Will be 6 months of growth – clean in spite of his shunning a coat

 

 

 

Examples of what to expect for the yearling ewes:

Nina’s 2014 clip stats: produced 5# raw fleece, but 84% of it was > 2″ to yield more skirted fleece weight than any of the adult ewes.  They don’t come out of the womb naked, they’ve been growing their wool for some time already.

Katie’s 2014 clip stats; produced 5.75# raw fleece, 65% > 2″.  Caviot… both of these girls were 53 weeks old when shorn for the first time.  This year’s crop of lambs will be 51 to 45 weeks old, if I get the shearing date I’m aiming for (1 week before Hattie and Fergie are due to lamb).

Midwinter Coat Check

A couple friends and I trimmed the sheeps’ hooves yesterday and seized the opportunity to check on fleeces and take some new photos.  I was especially interested to see the prelimiary effects of coating the 2014 ewe lambs.  We tried to have a yardstick in the photo frame to show the girls’ height at shoulder level, but the depth of field wasn’t adequate for that to be in focus.  As a substitute, I will note the size of their current coat which is the lenth in inches from neck to top of the tail.  Since I will be marketing their fleeces and also most of this year’s lamb crop, I will include some commentary on their genetics and fleece characteristics along with their photos.  

OliviaOlivia, daughter of Claire.  Like Nina, her half sister, she appears to have a longer than average staple.  I was getting caught up on skirting yesterday and was excited at the percentage of her mother’s fleece from 2013 that was longer than the 2″ minimum required by my processor, Chris Armbrust at Dakota Fiber Mill.  Claire’s 2014 fleece wasn’t quite as outstanding, which reminds me to take data every year.  My guidebook indicates staple length as a yearling has an average heritability of 47%, with a range of 17 to 60%. Olivia is now wearing a size 31″ coat.

 

 

P15-0166c PennyPenny, daughter of Fergie. I was surprized at the lightness of Penny’s surface coloration in spite of the coat.  It’s still hard for me to guess the color of the wool once the exterior, interior and middle get blended in the rovings.  From her surface color I’d call her Milk Chocolate!  She’s on the verge of outgrowing her 29″ coat.

 

 

 

P15-0162c RachelRachel, daughter of Hattie. The “saddle” of Rachel’s fleece under the coat has stayed nicely dark and clean.  She was one of the 3 first to be coated on August 15th.  She is now wearing a 29″ coat.

 

 

 

 

 

P15-0171c RhondaRhonda, daughter of Hattie.  Rhonda has not had a coat on so far, so has acted as a “control” for the other coated black ewes.  Her fleece does not appear to be especially dirty and the color on the surface of her fleece has not faded much at all compared to Penny, but has faded compared to Rachel or Tammy.  Her mother, Hattie, carries the fading gene so the color of the fiber next to the skin may also be light.  Hopefully the next set of photos will document that. We did coat her as of Monday (January 19) with a 29″ coat.  By the way… I did change my mind and register her.  She is the only black ewe yearling with a clear face (like her mother). 

 

 

P15-0160c Sara coat removed

Sara, daughter of Iris.  The cleanliness of her fleece under the coat was the most striking.  She’s had one on since September 6th.  Her current coat size is 27″.  Although her mother, Iris, is the oldest ewe in the flock, her fleece is one of the softest – bucking the trend for greater micron count (fiber diameter) with age. According to my reference (Kruesi’s The Sheep Raiser’s Manual), “fleece grade” has only an average heritability of 35%, BUT I’m hoping there will be some effect.  This coming season, I plan to have the wool of some of the sheep tested for micron count. 

 

 

 

P15-0161c Tammy

Tammy, daughter of Katie.  Tammy’s fleece under the coat has stayed dark and the coloration of her head wool has also stayed dark to the roots.  I get to give her scratches each day, so I know these things.  However,  in dogs the head color can age differently from the rest of the coat, so stay tuned for the next set of photos.  Tammy is still wearing a 27″ coat.

 

 

 

Sheep and Fiber Farm Tour

The Tour this last weekend was a great success, at least in my estimation. I took my two youngest ewe lambs and a truckload of other paraphrenalia to Melodee Smith’s yak farm near Welch, MN (Clear Spring Farm) where she had a pen and yard space awaiting me.  There were lots of interested (and interesting) people touring and I had a great time telling anyone who asked about my precious Babydoll sheep and the products they produce and help produce (fruits from my orchard).

It was easy for me to assume the role of Babydoll Southdown spokesperson for the weekend – with enthusiasm.  I had assembled a poster that spells out the advantages of the breed and had it on display when the wind speed allowed.P14-13-55c tour poster

My display also included rovings, combed top, and hand spun yarn from my flock, and some preserves made easier by my 4-legged groundskeepers. 

P14-13-35 PPF woolen wares for tour

The combined Smith and Anderson families did a great job of entertaining and educating visitors about their yaks.  I was amazed at the delicateness of the fiber from these large animals.  The kids handled their 4H food stand with skill and courtesy.  The wares were mighty fine, as I can attest.  I sampled extensively, but missed out on the yak meatballs. 

I was kept busy with the number of visitors taking advantage of Saturday’s balmy weather and must have had my hands in my pockets on Sunday since I missed out on lots of photo opps of the yaks and the ewe lambs on display. I did catch a few photos of Larissa Walk’s lovely dyed wool items from her display and demo (see below) inside the most un-barnlike barn I’ve ever seen.

I’m already looking forward to next year and hope the Tour continues.

P14-13-38 tour crocheted swtr

Demonstration: Yarn being dyed in a walnut bath.

Demonstration: Yarn being dyed in a walnut bath.

P14-13-37 tour items with dyed yarns

DIY Shearing

Moonshadow, my grayish Shetland wether, was in need of shearing.  His fleece was gorgeous – mostly bur-free and clean.  

Moonshadow before shearing.

Moonshadow before shearing.

 By spring it would be longer than most fiber mills care to handle – I’m thinking it was about 4″ long at this point.  Over winter it would get dirtier as well.  It needed to be done soon so some could grow back and keep him insullated over winter.  I figured – How tough could shearing one animal be?  I’d received a used electric shearer (Thanks, Meg!) so set to the task.  I had tied him with a dog collar around his horns to the trailer hitch on my truck. Well… after uncovering just a 9 by 12″ patch of skin the poor dude was about ready for a transfusion. The blades were as dull as I’d been warned they would be and my emery cloth treatment apparently hadn’t helped.

 

 I headed over to an Amish neighbor who sheared for me in 2013. He said he would do it but he was swamped and I’d need to bring Moonshadow to him and … I chose not to impose and headed back home.  This time I took out an instrument labeled as an “antique, English-made” hand shearer, touched it up with the angle grinder and whet stone, and started in.

The victim during the perpetration.

The victim during the perpetration.

 

It took over an hour of being bent almost double, but I got it done.  Periodic breaks to unkink the spine seemed to be appreciated by Moonshadow, too.  I was able to pull the cut wool away from the work area so had very few second cuts, so the quality of the harvested wool is quite good. 

Moonshadow after shearing.

Moonshadow after shearing.

 

 

 

I was glad I had the extra fiber length to work with. I wouldn’t want to do it with the shorter-stapled Babydolls, but know I could if I had to. I didn’t cut super close so he shouldn’t get chilled.  The extended handling made him calmer (resigned?), not freaked out as I had feared.

The crime scene.

The crime scene.

 

 

The chance to have my own Shetland wool to work with in a couple different shades is exciting.  I partially skirted the fleece until other duties intruded.  It was easier than skirting the Babydolls’ – cleaner and over 95% of the locks exceded the minimum staple length for my processor (2″).  I separated the wool into silver and cream piles so will have at least 2 color lots.

I’ve recovered to the point of considering shearing the other Shetland wether, Noir, too, for a third shade (black).  

That means I would have to catch him, though …

 

Coated cuties will be on The Tour

On Saturday and Sunday, October 11 and 12 the self-guided, 2014 Sheep and Fiber Farm Tour will be held in southeastern Minnesota with options to stop at 5 fiber farms plus the Faribault Woolen Mill.  Thanks to a couple of grants, the tour is free with the intention of informing the public about the associated animals, farmers, fibers, and products.  At each stop there will be tours, demonstrations, and, often, items for sale.

Three or so of my coated (see “Lambs don fatigues” post) ewe lambs and I will be camped out at Clear Spring Farm. This 40 acre yak farm is located near Welch, MN.  I will also have rovings and yarn for viewing and purchase.  The tour is open from 9 to 5 each day.  Tentatively, I will be there with the girls from 11 to 5 each day ( there IS a farm here that needs care after all…) For more info visit: 

http://www.fiberfarmtour.com/Fiber_Farm_Tour_2014/BROCHURE_files/SheepFiberTourBrochure2014_LR.pdf