Archive for March, 2008

Nekked Sheep!

Yesterday was shearing day here at Sheep Thrills Farm! The shearer we found through Katie at Rockin-A-Ranch in Taylor, Arizona, is a gem! A good shearer is worth their weight in gold and Penny was more than we could have ever hoped for.

This is a picture of Penny and her daughter, Emily (aka “Ducky”). If any of you feel you’ve met Penny before dig out your DVD of Dirty Jobs, Season 1…Penny is the person who taught Mike Rowe to shear alpacas! We had a great day with her and her daughter. She was supposed to spend the night here before moving on to her next job but after a phone call home had to change her plans and head out for her brother’s place. She’s just started learning to spin. We had an evening of spinning and fibers planned but that will have to wait for her next trip through.
I can’t say enough about how professional and gentle to the sheep Penny was. The day went smoothly without major incident. It was long and we were all tired, but most of the fleeces came off smoothly with a minimal of second cuts. (Even though I have a couple of sheep who seem to have a spot of very, very dense fleece on their backs – to Penny’s credit she didn’t say anything until I mentioned it was tough going. Then we both laughed as she admitted some Shetlands were like that and were indeed a pain in the…)
Amanda: “Pssst! Hey, Everyone! Who IS that person who just walked into the barn with that motor and clippers? I think we may be in trouble here. Maybe we should take it on the lamb…”
Skittles was the first one in. He was all the gentleman we have come to know him to be. Penny thought he was awesome!
Here she’s finishing up with The Big Guy. She was so gentle with him. And he was very respectful of her. That impressed me. Skit doesn’t mess around with people he doesn’t care for. It was very apparent these two had a “thing” for each other. 🙂
Above is Ole after his first haircut. As I recall, all the wethers were making a raucous about this whole affair. Ole would bleat, then his brother would chime in and get both Shaun and Colin going as well. The rest of the sheep were really quiet, but not those four.

Shaun was next after Sven. What a beautiful fleece Shaun has! It’s a deep reddish moorit with just a few shiny silver hairs now and then that added almost a glint of silver to the fleece. This is one fleece I’m keeping for me! In the picture above, that’s not white on Shaun. It’s the reflection from the flash. Yes, Shaun’s fleece was that lustrous!

Colin’s turn. You can’t see in the photo, but he’s gotten way more iset, or frosty, in his fleece this year.
Above is Amanda, freshly shorn and fat with lambs. Penny said she felt at least two, with the possibility of more. we noticed that Amanda is definitely starting to “bag up”, an indication of lambing soon. She’s scheduled to lamb around the 15th of April – IF she doesn’t explode first! She had two huge ram lambs last year. I keep whispering in her ear, “Girls this year, Amanda. Only girls.”
And here are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in their pen after the indignation of having their wool removed. And they let us know it all afternoon too. How dare we throw them on their bums and run that vibrating scissors over their bodies! Don’t we know how warm that kept them?
As a matter of fact, we do! It’s either being shorn, Boys…or being eaten. Which would you rather we do, eh?
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Bran Watching & The Odd Duck

My friend, Bran (pronounced Brawn), has been around much more lately. He must have some sort of egg-radar – he knows when the hens have started laying in earnest in the spring. If I haven’t caught a mouse in one of the many traps I have in the barn, I will usually offer him a dirty or cracked egg if I happen to have one. Today, I didn’t have a dirty one but I did have an extra one. As I walked back to the house I placed the egg on top of one of the 6 x 6 fence posts.
Sure enough, I didn’t have to wait long for Mr. Bran to come swooping in to pick up this treasured booty. You can see him clutching the egg in this second photo – ready to make his escape off to who knows where. He’s learned that if I see him trying to cache the egg in the pasture, I will walk towards him and either take the egg back or chase him off telling him I don’t want eggs buried all over the field. He warily complies although I’m sure he was just thinking about convenience for him and his Mrs. I can tell he and his spouse are nesting now as she has come with him on his treat-gathering excursions. He takes food, but she takes bits of wool and shredded juniper bark for the nest.
The sheep have been “itchy”…scraping their fleece on fencing trying to dislodge the itchy wool. No worries, Girls and Boys…Penny is coming Friday to remove that wonderful fiber from your bodies. As our nights are still rather cold and I love clean fleece, as soon as she’s given you all your buzz-cuts I will be putting new coats on you. I know it won’t quite be the same, but they will keep the wind off of you as well as protect next years fleece from debris and sun damage.

The last photo I have for you is of an unusual visitor to our area. This is a diving duck who’s not been identified yet. So far, he’s the only one of his kind to visit us. We have plenty of Mallards and Cinnamon Teals right now, even Canada Geese, but this Lone Duck has been hanging around near our neighbor’s little pond. Looks like someone took a wrong turn in Mexico and landed in the mountains of Arizona instead of with others of his kind. I will do more research…perhaps I’ll go over to a wetland area we have nearby. There may indeed be others and this one prefers to be off on his own. Just because he’s not listed in any of the western bird books is no reason to ignore him. I wish I could hold my breath as long as he does his. 🙂

Maybe if I move real slowly, I can finally get up close enough to get a decent photo of this little guy…that is IF I don’t have six sheep sneaking up on him with me!

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Easter Flowers

I thought I would share a couple of the more cheerful, colorful aspects of this past weekend holiday with you.

This first picture is of a Christmas Cactus I have had for years. I should name it “Old Faithful” as it begins to bloom around Halloween continuing up to and usually through Easter. I had been worried about it as most of my plants suffered during my stay in the hospital last June and afterward. Poor guys. I feel like this plant came through just to let me know that they all hung in there for me. Now if the orchids will get off their (ahem!) backsides and follow suit!
Next we have a lovely bunch of Daffodils. While friends like Tina and Michelle have had many things bloom at their places, I have had to console myself with bought daffodils from a local grocery store. The nice thing about these is they have a wonderful fragrance. And a bonus is that none of the cats seem to want to munch on them.

We have also had quite a few active birds around. I’ve been waiting for the Western Bluebirds to start moving through – a sure sign of impending spring here in the mountains, but have had to “make do” with Mr. House Finch singing his beautiful little heart out trying to impress the Mrs. He’s been here for a number of years (or maybe his son?) and every morning will sit by the kitchen door, serenading me with his beautiful renditions. As summer comes closer, his feathers will become much brighter in color. Sometimes, Bran will sit on a nearby telephone pole and try singing base along with the finches song. But he just can’t cut the mustard like Mr. H. Finch!

That’s OK, Bran…I’ll still talk to just you down at the barn. I’m ready for another lesson in Raven. Are you ready to teach one?

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Last evening, I had to take the wethers out of the pen they were sharing with Skittles. Except for Colin, I noticed that Skit kept herding the smaller wethers into a corner at the bottom of his pen. He would not let them near the water trough, or near any of the spots I had placed hay in – trying to have separate areas that everyone would be able to eat. Somehow, Skit would keep chasing all of the others away from any of the piles of food liked some crazed fanatic. He hogged it all, trying to gorge himself with all of the food. He was getting everything plus keeping anyone else from getting much of anything at all.

What alarmed me was that he wouldn’t even share with Colin, his best buddy. I had an inkling about this and was watching his behavior for the past few days. Usually, Skit would eat his hay sharing with his buddy but keeping a wary eye on the smaller wethers as he munched. Everyone got to eat what they were supposed to. I suspect he felt he needed more, pig that he can be, which started this behavior in the first place. Then, he became hopped up on hay and timothy pellets, causing the abusive behavior.
The “last straw” for me was finding poor Ole absolutely covered in grass and hay when I went out to feed yesterday. It was very apparent that “someone” had broadsided Ole, causing him to be thrown flat to the ground and then on his back. Ole was also walking around as if stunned, just very slightly limping. He was in the far corner with his brothers, Colin placing himself between the smaller boys and Mr. Piggy, in full “I am the Protector” mode. Enough.
I opened the gate to allow the wethers into the barn-proper. Skit can still be nose to nose with them, even share hay with them through the fencing if he wants. But he can’t block them from eating. I knew it was the right thing to do when the four wethers went straight to the water and drank their fill. I then put out some hay, hay-pellets plus a pan of minerals and bicarb-buffer. After feeding the ewes and giving Skit a much smaller protion of hay I sat on the stoop watching the little boys and Colin eat in peace. As I sat there, each of the boys, in turn, came over to me, put their head in my lap (still happily munching on hay) and looked up at me as if to say, “Thanks, Mom. I was getting so very hungry and thirsty.”
I suspect that Skit will settle down when he gets back to having only his portion of feed. I will watch behaviors to see if Colin wants back in with Skit, or wants to stay with his babies. Colin loves the little ones. Yup…I think it may be that Skit will eat alone in his pen, in full view of the other sheep, until he settles back down. All the boys will still be turned loose together in the pasture where they all have room to run if need be.
Space can be a problem when you have animals in intensive farming situations. I’m sure there are a few Shetland people reading this, on small places of their own, nodding in acknowledgement of having the same problems. Whom do you put with whom and do they have enough space? How can I manage the pasture so everyone gets some pasture time without overgrazing the land? We rotate pasture areas to try to keep the grass and land healthy. This can be a very hard thing to do in Arizona. We are blessed with a stream and green grasses for about 2/3 of the year. I have even had neighbors come over and ask how I still have grass when they can’t keep any growing on their places. I try to explain the concept of rotational grazing and that it works for even small spaces, but it doesn’t seem to sink in. I explain that a horse will eat pastures down to dirt if allowed to be in an area for a long time. For some reason, they just don’t “get it”. Sigh.

On the UP side of things, we may have a shearer lined up for next Friday! I am so jazzed about the prospect of having the flock shorn! I may not have the pregnant ewes shorn even though we’re not close to lambing until mid to late April. The shearer that’s coming is a woman with much experience and is known for her gentleness and quality of work. I will defer to her judgement as to whether or not it would be safe to shear the ewes. Or she may have them stand for shearing, I’m not sure. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, I expect. Bless Katie, in Taylor, AZ, for offering to contact this person and share her with me! I will have more to tell next Friday, I’m sure! 🙂

As you can see from the above photo, snow has melted to where the hens can get out and “Talk a little, peck a little. Talk a little, peck a little.” Come to think of it, maybe everyone here at Oleo Acres is just plain ready for warmer temperatures – the snow has melted from everywhere but the north side of buildings and hills, the sun is shining, and the birds are definitely into their “Spring Songs”. But the wind is still very cold.

I think we all just have Cabin Fever. The days are lengthening and all signs point towards moving toward summer. And IF the wind dies down a bit, I think all of us will reclaim our sanity or at the very least head towards normalcy…any day now. 🙂

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I want to wish all of you, Dear Readers, a very Happy St. Patrick’s Day! This is a day to celebrate all things Celtic, especially the Irish people and customs. Most of our family has Celtic/Scandinavian genetics so we see this as a day to celebrate EVERYTHING Celtic – not just the Irish portion, but we’ll throw in the Scottish and Viking genes for good measure!

I thought I would share a few photos of this morning with you:

The above photo is for Michelle. See? We do actually get fog in Arizona. I woke up to sunny skies but as I was reading the newspaper I noticed the room had become darker. When I looked up, I saw the fog rolling in. I love the fog. To me it’s like a warm hug. When I had horses I would love to go riding in the fog, enjoying the silence that seems to come with it. I still enjoy it, but it’s few and far between here in the SW mountains. So this morning was a treat for me.

This weekend we had a dramatic weather change! Last Friday saw the wind starting and by Saturday it was blowing a gale. I was covered with hay after trying to feed everyone that day. You can tell you live with a shepherd when you have bits of hay all over the house. It follows us the same way that Pigpen in Peanuts has a cloud of dust with him wherever he goes. After a windy day, I christen the house with bits of green. I suppose you could defend the contamination by saying I was decorating for St. Patrick’s Day. It’s a flimsy excuse, I know…but the best I could come up with under the circumstances. 🙂

Above, you’ll see two visitors to the flooded area of the pasture. Shhh…they’re taking a siesta. I was surprised they let me get as close as I did as the snow crunched under my feet every time I took a step towards them. (You can always biggyfy the photos by clicking on them…)

As I walked back from the barn this morning, I noticed some of the 6 inches of snow decorating my DH’s pride and joy, Betty the ’53 Merc. If you look closely, you’ll see me in the reflection of the chrome.
I had a few more photos that I tried to upload for this post, but for some reason I have had nothing but problems with Picasa today. I will try to post a second part later in the day.

I hope you all have a great day today – even if it IS a Monday. Maybe because it’s St. Patrick’s Day today, it will be a very good Monday for everyone. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you all have a beautiful day today!

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False Spring?

Things have FINALLY started turning around, at least as far as the weather goes, here at Oleo Acres. The creek, once almost to the underside of the old bridge, is still high but not flooding. We have been promised weather in the 50s lulling us into the idea that spring is here. Those of us who have lived in this area for a long time know full well that “It ain’t over yet!” – we still will have winter until the end of May, or maybe mid-June. The birds are singing spring songs and scoping out nesting sites. The nurseries in town are getting in pansies and violas. All tempting gardeners to buy and plant now.

I have always said the definition of an optimist is a gardener in Flagstaff. I am guilty myself of buying plants early only to have Mr. Frost and his cousin Mr. Frozen let me know they are still in the area. My DH is the same…we both enjoy having lush green plants around and hate to have to wait until June to plant much of anything. But we know better. And even though I know better, I still look at the vegetable and herb starts in the stores and drool.

I happened to get this picture of Skit and Colin this morning. The sun is behind them so it’s not the best shot of them, but they had this “look” on their faces. I think they were almost glad to see me this morning. There was no pacing the fence line waiting for food and demanding “Hummpf!” on their lips, and no demand for cookies as I was late to the barn this morning. The young wethers are now in the pen with Big Brother and Dad. I will be able to clean out their pen in the barn and transfer the ewes to it while I ready the other end of the barn for lambing jugs in anticipation of our mid-April lambing. I find myself happily waiting as a child would Christmas. What will the Sheep Stork bring this year? What colors will they be? How many ewe lambs this year? I had to have a talk with Skittles about the abundance of ram lambs last year, telling him, “No, no, Skit. Girls only this year, Skit!”

The chickens have been enjoying the warmer weather. To the left of center in the above photo is Slick, our Ameraucana rooster. He’s a bantam rooster, but don’t let that fool you. We have the happiest 11 hens anyone could wish for. Nice to see a rooster happy in his work.

I had to remove the coats I had on the girls to keep their fleeces clean. They were beginning to resemble sausages ready to burst out of the casings. From the front they have the appearance of big fluffs of brown marshmallow on four toothpicks with all that fleece. Most have at least 5 to 6 inches of fleece. Keep your fingers crossed that I can find a shearer before the end of this month.

OK, Girls…remember…girls only this year. I talked to Skittles and he assured me he would do his best for girls. How about a couple of nice horned ewes while you’re at it? C’mon Loretta and Ailee…pass those genes on…I know you can do it!

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Appreciating Himself

These are not the best photos I have taken of “Himself”, but I took them to show you something I noticed about Skittles that wasn’t there last winter. This all came about from letting all “The Boys” out together in the pasture yesterday. I wish I had my camera then for what did I behold, but a ram ponging and jumping around the pasture with all the rest of the boys – kicking his heels up in pure joy! I never thought “The Old Man” could move like that! 🙂

It was then I noticed it…the sun was at my back as I hung over the gate to watch and so afforded me the opportunity to see what the dull greys of winter had hid so well from sight. Can you guess what it is?

Now, in his defense, he wasn’t posed for any of these shots, but it’s still visible. It looks so much better in person, too. I just wish the camera had captured “it” as I had witnessed.

The above shot is a good one showing “it” off. Any guesses? Look closely at the LUSTROUS FLEECE The Old Man is sporting this spring! WaHoo! I have had only one shearing from Skit since I bought him from Nancy. And I have to be honest – his fleece showed the stress of shipping such a long distance plus his having to acclimate to this high altitude. The altitude will definitely take the wind out of your sails until you get used to it. Skit had only 6 weeks before breeding season that fall, very little time to adjust to all the changes in his life.
Altitude was a big concern for me…at high altitudes some strains of bulls will keel over stone-cold dead during breeding season as their heart can’t take the stress. I had never heard or read of any sheep doing that but I sure didn’t want my buddy to be the first. What a tough cookie he is.
That’s right, Skit…you guard that barn area from all comers! You’re looking awesome, Buddy! I ‘ve just got to get you a dribble bib for that hay under your chin.

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