Friday, August 26, 2011

Summer Recap

In short this summer has been busy, hot and fun.
Most summers fit this description. However, this one has been particularly busy since the arrival of the Fab 5 in early May. Every morning and night there are chores to do. Plus the additional of moving them from one section of pasture to the other and then of course the worry – it’s a requirement of farming, I think. Worry of things that are outside your realm of control.


I couldn’t control the fact that the month of July saw 15 days above 90 degrees or days with heat warnings/advisories. In mid-July I made the executive decision to move the flock from their main pasture to the close paddock and barn near the house, and electricity. This provided better shade and a place to escape inside where I had equipped the barn with a fan. Every few days I revise their territory they can graze – and it’s reduced the amount of mowing I have to do. I-minion usually leads the sheep since they will follow him anywhere. He calls it his sheep conga line.

The sheep seemed much, much happier with the place to hang out in the relative cool, even if the humidity remained at an astronomical level – at least for Iowa.

The heat and humidity have broken. When I’ve gone out to do chores in the morning for the last few days, the temperature has been barely 50 degrees. It is obvious that Weston, Edward, Churchill, Collins and Knightley camped outside because it was so nice.

What else has gone on?

Baby O is convinced he belongs with the sheep – he calls them all Churchill. If he’s left unattended for second he is off to the barn. They come up to him and allow him to pet them, and seem to be extra calm around him. He has earned the nickname “Water Moccasin” because any time anyone plays with the hose he is right there helping/playing in it. He is an ace at filling water buckets and watering flowers. He’ll even haul his 5 quart bucket full of water to the pen to help with chores.


The minions are adapting to “farm” life easily. They go out and help do chores with me and most recently we’ve been getting our new to us chicken coop ready to go. We bought it on craigslist for a price that is cheaper than what it would have cost us to buy the materials and build it.



J needs to put it on skids so we’ll be able to move it around. Initially we want to put them in the pasture with the sheep, as the electric fence should deter the canines that live at the house.


At the end of day there’s always time for a little book reading. Lately everyone has been clamoring to read “North American Wild Life.” It’s a Reader’s Digest book my mom bought and it has been part of my life as long as I can remember. Last summer, she gave me the book to share with my kids.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Overheard From the Trailer

I couldn't tweet from the road. Instead, I bombarded my mother and a few choice friends with some random texts. So instead of Texts from Last Night, I bring you: Texts Overheard From the Trailer. It was a fun way to keep folks informed of our progress on the road and to keep me occupied.

Friday, May 6

12:16 p.m. Edward, Collins, Knightly, Churchill and Weston say Haay from West Virginia.

12:32 p.m. The sheep ride more quietly than the kids.Just outside Charleston W.VA. with just a hint of rain.

2:20 p.m. One friend offers to be Churchill's godmother, but then questions if she has to be Catholic. I tell her they've waived that requirement since he's a sheep.

4:08 p.m. "Hold onto your woollies! We're in Kentucky! Weston thinks we can find some good varieties of hay here -- you know horses can be kind of uppity about their hay." -- Weston

7:27 p.m.  In a sing-songy voice "Sweet home Indiana .... What? We're going to Iowa?! Oh." -- Collins

Saturday, May 6

6:21 a.m. "Ewww Knightly you are so gross. you POOPED in the water bucket. It's good Shepherd Mariah loves us. She fixed it." -- Weston.

6:32 a.m. "Illinois? All I know is that I'm Illanoid with you guys hovering over me. Give me a fleece." -- Churchill. Churchill was the lone sheep facing the door of the trailer, the rest of them were packing him in the corner.

9:42 a.m. (and just inside the Iowa border) "We are where? Ioway?!? Is that on the way to the Maryland Sheep and Wool?" -- Edward.

10:23 a.m. "Dudes, I figured out where Iowa is. It's north of the Mason-Dixon Line. We're northern sheep, like almost to Minnesota, north" -- Churchill
"Good thing I brought my wool coat." -- Knightly

11:19 a.m. "We were just passed by the Dudes from American Pickers. We tried to Kinnear them, but we don't have opposable thumbs to take a picture." -- The sheep on I-380 near Iowa City.

1:54 p.m. "What do you see Edward?" -- Collins
"Nothing Collins. I see nothing. Shepherd Mariah wasn't lying when she said it's flat." -- Edward

4:20 p.m. "Really, I expected more knitters at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. They've got great grass though." -- Knightly

The Fab Five in the Fleece

I was going to give you a nice long post, with pictures. Then I realilzed the photos I saved on my thumbdrive didn't include all of the photos I wanted to add. In Lieu of that, I give you their offical Iowa portaits.

Hi! We like it in Iowa. The brome and big blue stem are so tasty.



Weston, the only ewe.




Collins. He's a little trickster, and the most skittish of the group.

Churchill. Churchill and Collins are twins.

And for those of you who really care, and while you don't want to admit it, you'll look up the birth info (I know I did) here it is.
  • Weston's mom is Queen Charlotte and was born on April 28, 2010.
  • Knightly's mom is Liberty and was born on April 26, 2010.
  • Collins and Churchill's mom is Snow and was born on April 15, 2010.
  • Edward's mom is Martha and was born on April 20, 2010.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

We're home!

Knightly, Weston, Edward, Churchill and Collins are settling into their pen/sheep shed. Weston is the only girl. Collins and Churchill are twins, and Weston is the only ewe.

We're going to get them turned out to the big pasture later today or perhaps tomorrow. They are hyper vigilant, looking around observing the flat land and listening to the different birds. Apparently Iowa birds are a lot louder than the Virginia bird -- or they are just different than what the Fab Five are used to.

Over the next day or so I'll be blogging about our adventure. Watch this space for highlights from the road and "Overheard From the Trailer.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On the road again!

We've nailed down a route, for the most part. We will be leaving northwest Iowa Tuesday evening, after dropping the minions and Baby O off at Grandma's. Then we'll be heading east and southerly direction.

This is what we look like when you pass us. Please note the barrel racer. That's what sets our rig with a semi-rusty horse trailer apart from the other semi-rusted horse trailers

This is what we look like when passing you. Please note the blue silhouette of a horse and rider.
Once we leave home we'll be heading toward Highway 20, and buzzing east across Iowa. until we hit Interstate 380 and we'll follow it south and east to Iowa City and then on I 80 to Davenport. Then we'll head south on I-74 flying through Peoria and Champlain in Illinois on our way to Indianapolis, IN. Then we'll head southeast again on our way to Dayton, OH, on I-71 and then we'll ride the along to Charleston, W. VA. Then we'll head west across West Virginia and buzz through the Monogahela National Forest over Interstate 64 to Charlottesville, VA and finally to Juniper Moon Farms.That's where we'll meet the gracious Susan, Caroline the Great and the sheep.

I've made several trips to across the northern part of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and into western Pennsylvania. This is the first time I've made a trip across the middle/southern parts of these states. The only time I've been to West Virginia is when we were visiting J's relatives in Marietta, OH, and we made a wrong turn and ended up in Parkersburg. Then we spent we spent an interesting afternoon exploring the town. This will be my first trip into Virginia.

Guess who's excited about the road trip?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Minions

Life with three kids ages 5 and under is interesting, to say the least. There's never a quiet moment, nor a moment where I feel unneeded. Most times it's great. However, there is a time when all I want to do is just escape for a few hours. A few hours where I can hear myself think, have an uninterrupted conversation with my husband, and knit. The 20+hour road trip will be a most excellent opportunity to get away.

This is what I'm leaving behind.
E-minion, age 5, going on 18.
I-minion, the boy with million mile eyelashes.
Baby O, who will eliminate any threatening string cheese that comes his way.

I hope Grandma is ready. She's never had all three of them, nor for this long. They'll still head to daycare during the day so she'll have a reprieve during work hours.

Travel Knitting

With a 20+ hour road trip in T-minus 50 hours I am slowly whittling my lists in preparation for the road trip. The kids' clothes are packed. We've rounded up a couple books, a movie and a couple little toys to go to grandma's house, which is where they are staying while we're gone.

Today's tasks have included washing what seems like a million loads of laundry, putting down bedding in the sheep shed, putting a bale in the bale feeder that J devised using a few old cattle panels and a picture he saw in a catalog. J took the horse trailer to town and to wash it.

While Baby O and E-minion napped, I packed my travel knitting. There is a delicate balance to find between bringing too much and too little; and too complicated and too boring.

So this is what I settled on:
A sweater. The pattern is Pink from "Custom Knits." It's about the color of a $20 bill. I am knitting the ribbing on the bottom, and then will move to the sleeves. A nice mindless knit, really.

A secret project: All I will say the pattern is from "A Knitter's Book of Wool" and I am using a fingering weight yarn. This is virtually a new project.

Then when I'm traveling there isn't much better than a pair of socks. This is Army green yarn, and they will become Red Cross approved hand knit socks for military service personnel. These are for my little brother. He's historian who specializes in World War II and the Cold War -- specializing in the Minutemen Missile Silos that were installed in western South Dakota and Wyoming.

All of it fits nicely in my Baggu Bags from The Loopy Ewe.

My intention is to have my knitting bag next to me in the car, and work as long as I can before dark. I intend to knit as much as I can when I'm not driving.

Monday, April 25, 2011

It's a date!

After much deliberation and finagling with the schedules it has been settled. J and I will leave Iowa on Tuesday, May 3 to go Virginia to pick up the woolies. We should arrive on Wednesday, May 4 in the afternoon/evening and be on our way back to Iowa on Friday, May 6.

We have toyed with the idea of taking Baby O with us. At just over a year, he hasn't completely weaned, and I don't want to force him into it. However, the child seems to be more smitten with his sippy cup as it is more portable. If he continues on this track, he'll stay at Grandma's with the big kids.

I'm looking forward to the road trip, time with J and of course the uninterrupted knitting time.

The big thing to plan now, is what knitting to take along?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Farm Girl

E-minion asked me this morning if she could borrow my drench gun so she could give medicine to Sarah Jessica, her purple unicorn pillow pet. She names everything Sarah Jessica, including the frogs she catches and the Japanese Asian Lady Beetles she captures and puts in margarine tubs.

Apparently the equine version of Sarah Jessica has been pooping all over the minions' room and she needed to do something about it. E-minion said Sarah Jessica was also too tired to eat and not interested in getting ear scrtiches.

After a close inspection, I realized that Sarah Jessica had an upset tummy because she'd been gorging on the freshly greened grass in the yard. Her tummy wasn't used to the change in diet from hay. We set her up with a little electrolytes, and some hay for the day. Then after work/daycare Sarah Jessica can go out and have some hay, but not too much. I told E-minion she'll have to keep a close eye on her, just to make sure that it doesn't get any worse, or we might have to call Vet Sandy.

This isn't the first time Sarah Jessica has been sick. She was ill a few weeks ago when E-minion was home sick from school. They both snuggled on the couch and I had to played veterinarian with her. We were able to make Sarah Jessica better by lacing her water with some Pedialyte (a ice cream bucket with some Legos thrown in the bottom)  and a special ration of grain -- served out of one of the rings from Baby O's stacking toys.

By the next morning E-minion and Sarah Jessica were feeling better.

Tonight I hope that our plan of action has helped Sarah Jessica and will further E-minion's creativity. Who knows when she grows up, maybe she'll want to be a vet. I know that's what I wanted to to when I was her age.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Update Time!

It's been a while since I updated the good 'ol blog. We've been busy building fence. We got the area south of the barn mostly fenced in. Wires are strung, posts are pounded and everything is clipped down. There are gates to hang.Unfortunately I can't turn anything loose into the area and keep them contained.

The problem is our barn. It's a 60 x 120 foot monster that is falling in. Really about 20 years ago someone needed to love it, and put a new roof on. When we bought our place in 2002, we couldn't afford to at the time. It's slowly been falling in. This winter the south side wall finally went down. The uprights that support the hay mow are actually still very straight and strong, so I don't know when it will eventually go down.

Our intentions are to pull it down in the next couple of years and put up a smaller, more usable sized building for the sheep and any other livestock that we'll be acquiring.

Speaking of acquiring we had a slight problem with the sheep. The individual we'd hired to pick up the sheep turned out to not be the type of person we wanted hauling our woolies cross-country. So we've gotten our deposit back and we're planning to go to Virginia to pick them up ourselves.

Last Friday J and the minions drove to Fort Dodge to pick up a horse trailer. It's a sturdy unit that may not be so pretty, but it will hold the sheep very nicely. I'm in the process of working out a date to pick up the sheep with Susan at Juniper Moon. Right now it looks like sometime after April 25.

I have photos of fence building AND the new trailer -- the minions think that it is the most awesome jungle gym -- but I left the camera at home and am typing this up on break while at work.

Last night I struck a deal with the neighbor and resident chicken farmer. He's heading to the big city about an hour away on Thursday to pick up his special order chickens and he offered to pick up eight Rhode Island Reds for us. He also volunteered to keep them in his brooder until they were big enough to run free and then they'll come and live at our place.

I haven't told Ian yet. He'll be so excited I won't be able to contain him. That means while this weekend won't be dedicated to working toward sheep needs, it will be dedicated to working toward chicken needs.

Next update will have photos, I promise.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A good mail day!

Today marks the first time Spee-Dee Delivery stopped at our house for me! Usually when their white truck pulls into the yard they are delivering car parts for my husband. This week they sent a bunch of the stuff I ordered for the sheep came today.

Everyone helps unpack the box.

It was like Christmas. Everyone was excited to see what was in it. The local farm stores cater to the needs of cattle and hog hog growers, as they out number the number of residents of the county. I ordered several items from Premier1. They cater to sheep growers. The best thing is that they are based in Iowa.

Good mail days means good boxes to play with and mostly likely bubble wrap.

In addition to my drench gun, nutri-drench, and a few pieces of fence tensioners for our high-tensile wire there was the charger for our electric fence. My husband, who has a degree in electrical engineering was so excited to see how well it has been built-- including the crimps on the wires, and the construction of the box.

Ooh look at this...

We opted for a solar charger as we aren't for sure what our final fences will be located and getting electricity run to the appropriate location. J just admits that he's turning in to a hippie who will soon start dressing in all sorts of stereotypical "hippie" attire.

Honestly, I think he's just as excited about the arrival of the sheep as I am. By the time we had the box unpacked, E-minion (who has strep throat) ran off with the bubble wrap. I-minion had taken over the box and Baby O was scheming his way to get into the box. We're waiting for one more box to come, this one will have our portable netting fence that we'll use for temporary fencing and movable paddocks.

I've received confirmation that my shipper will be picking up the woolie beasts on or about April 6, and they'll be making their way to Iowa, after that. Our shipper has four other stops before he arrives in Iowa. If I had to guess, they'll probably be here around April 11 or 12. That's just a total guess on my part, and I'll update when I have a better idea of when they arrive.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sheep and Death

We raised sheep when I was little -- like really little. We moved off the farm in 1984, just after I turned 5. I vividly recall my parents joking about one sheep having a brain, and with two sheep you have half a brain. Since sheep are flocking animals, an individual owns more than a couple, you've diminished sheep brain power significantly. Really sheep can't be that unintelligent as they've survived for thousands of years and really can thrive in almost any environment.

Since my quest for sheep formally began, I've heard several more tidbits about sheep and their likelihood of keeling over. My favorite, from a co-worker who also raises sheep: "Sheep die and then they get sick."

Folks who are around sheep regularly know they can be pretty sneaky and don't really show symptoms of being ill and when you realize they're sick and then it's pretty dire.

J, who has never been around livestock, spends his free time reading books about sheep, namely Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep, and he's a little disturbed by the health section talking about all the diseases and issues sheep can and do come down with. So much so, while working on the fence J was channeling the sheep saying things like "Oh, I'm tired, I don't think I'm going to go eat, so I'm going to die." Or "I'm bored today, so I think I'm going to die." Or, "I haven't had any energy drink to day, so I think I'm going to die."

Last night at supper while we were discussing fencing, I-minion decides that to try his own hand at a sheep death joke. Here's what he said "We wouldn't want to the fence to not be square, because it would upset the sheep and you know they might ..." At that moment he cocks his head to the side and clicks his tongue, indicating the sheep's demise.

Well we're going to do our best to make sure the fence is square. We've settled on high tensile wire, likely five strands, and the option of electrifying. Since we're expecting a cold, rainy weekend, we'll probably pull out the remaining woven wire fence that is so squished a 5-year-old can step over it without problems.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Operation Sheep Preparation

This weekend was a busy one at our Mount Olympus. The family fencing expert, my older brother Dan, came down to help us get things ready for the arrival of the flock I won from Juniper Moon Farm earlier this month.
Uncle Dan, Fencing Expert.
We haven't come to a consensus about the best way to fence in the total property, but we're getting closer. One thing that we agreed to was that the sheep would live in half the machine shed -- which up until now has been the home of my 1949 International hot rod and 1969 Lincoln Continental, and the inside area that our dogs have access to from their kennel.

Saturday morning we started by moving the cars and cleaned everything out. It was cold, rainy and relatively icky in the morning. We raked the dirt floor and ran the magnet bar over the entire floor and picked up several pounds of nails and other random pieces of metal.
Baby O helped pull the supplies where we needed them to go.

Then we settled on the plans -- three small pens that will serve as lambing jugs and a place to keep sick sheep will be located on the north side and open up into a larger pen. Then using old metal cattle panels were installed outside the building so the sheep will have a place to play.

By 10:30 Saturday morning, we had a plan and I was heading into town to pick up posts. A short break of soup and sandwiches to warm up, it was time to dig post holes. Everyone took a turn digging.

I-minion digging a post hole.
Once we got past the first 18 inches of compacted dirt and frost it was relatively easy to dig -- a vast difference than the fence I helped build in an area that probably should have been a gravel quarry -- lots of rocks and hard digging in clay.

E-minion taking her turn at digging.

Four posts were dug, tamped in, and then came time to scavenge wonderful 2x10s and 2x6s boards to hang on the posts. The boards came from our large barn. One side has fallen down, and the roof is gone. It's unusable now, but has a lot of great wood. The boards were originally part of the hay mow and pens/alleys inside. These boards are HEAVY and honestly 2 inches wide. Most new lumber that says it is 2x6, is more likely an 1 1/2x6.

I wasn't able to help as much as I would have liked, as I was main cook and kid wrangler. Baby O spent a fair amount of time playing in the dirt, and eventually napped in his stroller. The afternoon while he was sleeping, E-minion and I went inside and matched a batch of cake donuts for everyone to snack on. Once again, forgot the camera.

By supper time, we had the majority of the fence in, including rails along the inside walls, to make sure the sheep won't push the wall out. And EVERYONE was filthy and tired. The minions all bathed and crashed.
Baby O played hard, and was obviously in need of a bath.

Sunday we started with the side panels of the lambing jugs, and debated gate construction -- but we decided to wait until we had hardware for hinges and closures before finalizing the plan.
The north side of the building, and will eventually become the three lambing pens.
At the end of the weekend we have to round up bedding and a few bales of hay and we're set. We need to build four gates, and round up another big tub for water -- my plan is to snag Rocky and Jasmine's big tub for water to meet the immediate needs.
The main inside pens, looking south. The wall is actually doors that open to a large pen outside. The far left side of the picture will be hay storage.
This next week's tasks include rounding up the medical supplies, hay and bedding (which will be in the form of baled corn stalks and are easily available here). We are also meeting with the Natural Resource Conservation Service to discuss cost share options for rehabbing the pasture areas, as we intend to graze the sheep as much as possible.

The sheep will be leaving Juniper Moon early in April, and will arrive a few days later.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Successful Quest

Thank you everyone who voted to help me in my quest for sheep. I won! My much dreamed about theoretical sheep will become real sheep -- in the fleece!

I haven't worked out all the details yet, but I will be the recipient of a flock of Cormo Sheep and Angora Goats. Guess who will be doing a lot of fencing in the near future?

Once I have some things finalized, I'll post them here. Once the sheep arrive, I'll be sure to post lots of pictures of them.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Quest For Sheep

The next task in my master plan of turning our acreage into a real farm is Mariah's Quest for Sheep. The easiest way to do that is to win them!

Recently I entered a online contest at Juniper Moon Fiber Farms to win a flock of Cormo Sheep and Angora Goats. Out of all the folks who submitted videos and essays, I was chosen as a finalist. Please check out my essay, and vote for me here.

Contest runs until March 1.

Edited to add actual Essay Text to blog post:

My name is Mariah and I was born in the year of the Sheep. As a 4 year old who spent nearly every waking moment in the barn with the family's lambs, discovering that fact was way cooler than the first taste of Chinese. I knew sheep were part of my destiny. My parents' raised sheep, hogs and one calf a year for meat in western South Dakota. I relished in all aspects of raising sheep: guarding gates, moving the flock along the chute when we were worming, helping herd them to greener pastures and even washing glass soda bottles and feeding bum lambs. I celebrated the miracles and mourned the losses alongside my parents. I had my own ewe – Melody.

As with a lot of farm children during the early 1980s, my parents' were forced to leave in 1984. We sold Melody and the rest of the flock. Melody became a nice nest egg that eventually helped pay for college. We moved to the city and I never could shake the love for the smell of wool or the comfort and friendship that the lambs provided me.

That probably explains why this city girl convinced her even more of a city boy husband to purchase seven acres of Iowa farmland. One thing that drew us to our acreage was the restored prairie adjacent to our property. I've always wanted to re-establish our land as a working farm – a challenge in a county where the average family farm consists of 350 acres and where hogs out number the human inhabitants 32 to 1. The surge of small, niche operations intensified my desire. Learning to knit and spin focused it.
It's taken eight years, but my husband is actually excited about the idea of sheep. I tell him it will be great for our family (now consisting of 5-year-old twins, an almost 1-year old and two dogs the size of small calves), but really I think he likes the idea that we won't have to mow as much.

In the last two years I've begun to consult with my shepherd friends, natural resource conservationists and other area experts. I've tried to learn as much as possible about the best mix of pasture grass to sow in the “Back 40” to provide proper nutrition throughout the growing season, where to find feed in the winter, what fencing options are best and how to contend with parasites. Recently, there has been great focus on developing a business plan and picking the right breed of sheep that will thrive in Iowa's hot summers and cold winters.

By establishing a flock here in my little corner of the state, I hope to not only create a niche of high-quality fiber animals producing more than enough fiber for me to spin but to develop a business selling yarn and fiber for fiber enthusiasts in the upper Midwest. I also hope to instill a similar work ethic and education in my children that I received in the barn as a child.

Here are the photos I submitted along with my essay, in addition to the one at the top of the blog.