We’ve moved the Blog!

Sept. 5, 2012

Home page at sunandwindfarm.com includes our blog

Hi everyone. We’ve consolidated the “Notes From the Back Pasture” blog into the rest of our web site. Follow the link and you’ll find our blog, our cute lamb photos and our brand new online store. Thanks for your patronage of our blog over the years. We have high hopes for the new combined features at Sun and wind farm’s improved website!

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Ramblin’ man

Ever vigilant, Diego watches over the pasture

August 25, 2012

Diego, one of our two Great Pyr livestock guardian dogs, provides the gruff ruff of authority in the pasture. He greets all perceived threats – be they grazing horses, hot-air balloons, distant coyote howls or imaginary late-night lights that he alone sees – with a full-throated “RUFF.” Freckles chimes in, but her higher-pitched yelps simply don’t carry the same weight.

Characteristic of their breed, the two dogs frequently patrol the perimeter of the property, sniffing for security breaches in the fencing and scouting out future bladder-relieving locations. On balance, they provide many services and put up with a lot of irritating behaviors from their fellow pasture residents, the sheep and chickens. But sometimes too much is just too much for a man.

That’s why good fencing is key with these dogs. They are the responsible guardians for all they can see. But when they see beyond fences to neighbors’ pastures, they sometimes assume responsibilities that take them away from home, as in the recent Case of the Disappearing Dog. One morning, Diego was gone, nowhere to be seen. Spot checks of the four corners of the property were to no avail. On a hunch, we called our neighbor to the west. Sure enough, Diego was camping out in his barn, along with his goats, cows and a donkey. We drove over to recover Diego, which was when we learned that the neighbor had lent his own dog to friends in another town. Diego had sensed the absence of a guardian on the neighbor’s property.

Normally, this would not be a problem, because most fencing in these parts is strong enough and high enough to keep dogs and other animals where they belong. But the cows on the neighbor’s property had gradually weakened the fence during their continuing search for tasty grass. The strands of wire had separated far enough to allow Diego to break on through to the other side.

Over the coming weeks, Diego was to repeat his escapes until finally last week the neighbor shored up the fence enough that no right-thinking dog would attempt a breakout. We’re grateful that Diego takes his job so seriously, but if it’s just the same to him, we’d prefer him to confine his rambling to our side of the fence.

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Wool duet

Wool fits perfectly three across on our shelves — if they are folded the correct way.

July 6, 2012

When I retired a year ago, I looked ahead with great anticipation to hobbies, new and old, that I would cultivate.

  • In college, I was a tournament-level chess player, but I had hardly touched the board since then.
  • Many creative friends and relatives shared their worlds with each other through photography, so I definitely wanted to try that.
  • And who doesn’t like the idea of taking on travel as a hobby, to traipse across the planet, experiencing other cultures (or at least their food) with a worldly sangfroid?

Frances has hobbies as well.

  • She is a voracious reading, going through two or three books a week, a habit she shares with her siblings and, now that I think about it, with my kids and many of the people we know (except me, hmm).
  • Even though we share responsibilities for the sheep and chickens, one only need watch which one of us they congregate around in the farmyard to realize that they understand how deeply invested she is in that hobby.
  • And of course, Frances has her wool dyeing business, which she had quietly nursed and built up on her own the last few years. Her customers are rug hookers and other fiber artists around the world and her marketplace is eBay. I could see that she was very busy in the wool room all the time; I didn’t have much of a clue as to what she was doing.

Recently, thanks to the clarity of vision that descends with a sickening thud when one counts up all the pennies and aligns them to actuarial tables, I realized that Frances’ hobbies bring in money, while mine simply spend money. (Reading books doesn’t actually bring in money, but for years she sold second-hand books online so she’s grandfathered in on that). Thus began my career assisting her in Sun and Wind Farm’s wool dyeing division. She may be Product VP and Chief Visionary Officer, but there are roles for me too. I am John in Accounting, John in Marketing, John in Research, and John in Distribution.

This was going to be great, I thought. I could apply my college and career business credentials to our enterprise and help it grow! No longer would Frances have to perform every single chore related to the business. She had me, and I had her covered!

It’s funny, though, what you learn about a loved one when you work with them.

In a marriage, the little rough edges that might become insurmountable hurdles elsewhere are actually just cute personality traits that remind you over and over why you married this person. Unless you have to work with her. Then those same precious quirks suddenly start to morph into something darker.

I mean, how many ways can one actually fold a 56” piece of hand dyed wool? There is the correct way (and I don’t say it’s correct just because, out of sheer coincidence, it’s how I do it): Fold the wool once at 18” from the left and once at 18” inches from the right, and you have a nice package of wooly goodness that can fit three across on our shelves. What could be simpler?

Or take another example: Should one uniformly append a name tag for the wool in the same place on the same edge, or should one be “creative” in the labeling, sometimes putting it on top, sometimes on the bottom, and sometimes folding it inside the wool so that someone (for instance, me) who is trying to quickly find the right piece of wool in a stack of 10 items doesn’t have to twist and turn into a knot to read each label? Who could disagree?

It’s funny how this works both ways sometimes. From time to time, I analyze price points with Excel, expertly drag and drop a chart onto Powerpoint and then launch into an impromptu presentation for my audience of one. She listens politely and at the end responds with the wisdom of those who haven’t just talked about doing something, they have gone and done it. “Yes, that should work, you’re right. I wonder what happens when you fold in the postage price increase that hits at the 13-ounce mark?” Oh, is all I can say. I didn’t know that.

We’re singing a sweet duet right now working together on this project. May I never forget it’s her song we’re singing.

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What’s yours is mine

June 16, 2012

All was quiet in the pasture. But the ominous sound of distant thunder was a harbinger for the unrest that was about to be unleashed.

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New chickens arrive

May 22, 2012

When a friend was overwhelmed with her chickens, we agreed to help. So now we have three white leghorns joining our five Rhode Island reds.

One of the three new chickens

These leghorns are a different bird altogether. The breed originated in the Tuscany region of Italy. Known as great egg layers, they rarely display broodiness (unlike certain other RED hens who shall remain nameless), which is fine because who needs hens hanging around the nest all day!

The three of them sleep together in a lump of chicken-ocity on the ground. So far there has been no sign of competitive inter-breed hostilities, but we are keeping a close eye on this.

The reds are a bit squat but the whites are quite tall, even at three months, towering over the reds. I know the whites remind me of something I’ve seen before, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

White leghorn or Star Wars chicken walker: You decide!

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If sheep could talk

May 9, 2012

And now we present “Finding Effie,” a one-act play by the Sun and Wind Farm Players.

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Summing up the Class of 2012

Tilly rests with her lambs, Biggy (left) and Jersey (in tub). Now that jug is no longer needed for lambing, chickens are investigating its use as a clubhouse.

May 7, 2012

Tilly, the last of the ewes, finally lambed on Friday morning. She is flighty and a first-time mom, so we fretted ahead of time about the state of her mothering skills. She gave birth out in the field, in a shaded, grassy area beneath a tree. Under no circumstance did we want to leave the lambs exposed to predators. But we knew we would be running a risk of alienating Tilly if we just picked up the lambs and jogged back to the shed. So we rigged up a Lambmobile. We placed a towel at the bottom of a laundry basket and tied some rope onto one side of the basket, near the bottom so we would not accidently tip the vehicle over. Then we slowly pulled the basket back to the shed. Tilly could see her lambs at all times. Whenever it looked as if her interest might flag, one of the lambs would obligingly bleat, reinvoking her maternal instinct. The 75-yard trip took a few minutes. But once she and the lambs were installed in the jug, she was a champ, paying close attention to her twins and nurturing them through their first few days.

The births came one month and one day after the first of this year’s class of lambs. Here is a summary of what transpired between April 3 and May 4:

17

The number of lambs born on Sun and Wind Farm in 2012.

10

The number of ewes who gave birth. This means there were 7 sets of twins and 3 singletons.

9

The number of Shetland purebreds sired by Zorro.

11 + 6

The number of females and males in this year’s class.

1

The number of bottle babies. (Go, Lucky!)

22

Estimated number of hours of sleep lost by humans staying up for late-night births.

But seriously, with the notable exception of Willow — the Icelandic ewe who rejected little Lucky — the rest of the ewes turned out to be great moms. No one has tried to poach another’s lamb. Only Notchie (a Shetland whose name is testimony to the dangers of mis-aimed ear-tagging guns) has given Lucky any trouble, but even her nasty nudges have diminished over time.

The lambs are all exhibiting a healthy sense of independence and many of them have displayed intriguing personality quirks. Effie is sweet and demure, while the coltish males, Salt and Pepper, are active and rogue-y. Siblings Cow and Thunder, the first ones born on April 3, are the loudest of the bunch and not afraid to emit a piercing “Aaaah” anytime they are displeased.

Zorro: Ram-tastic

For now, we are not planning to breed the sheep next year. We have 28, and they provide more than enough fleeces to fuel Frances’ wool store on eBay (http://stores.ebay.com/Sun-and-Wind-Farm). We sold Zorro mid-month since we could foresee trouble trying to keep him away from the alluring siren calls of close to two dozen ewes. If and when we’re ready to go through this all over again, we’ll seek another ram. But we’ll have a hard time finding a ram as sweet and quietly effective as Zorro has been. Happy trails, Bud, and may all your pastures be green.

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