A Wonderful Wool – and a couple other things

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Wrapping up my stay here and hoping to be home soon, I want to share a few last things about these sheep and their wool.

But first, a couple maps to help you see where I am. In the second you can see the placement of the Isle of Man between Ireland and England. In the first, I can point out where I am staying – in Douglas on the east coast. We drove up to Laxey, which I will describe below, and then went around to Peel which has the castle and was the capital of IOM and the Viking seat of power.

There is a lot of history here and I barely scratched the surface of it. Like many other areas, it was settled by Vikings. They have a wonderful museum here, where our conference was held. I spent a few minutes going through it but not nearly enough to do it justice.

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But back to wool. We spent an afternoon in Laxey. It is the site of Laxey Woolen Mills and we heard a great talk about its history by the current owner, John Wood. The only commercial mill left on the island it was founded in 1881 and has had a very interesting history. Here they weave Pure Manx Loaghtan and blends into travel rugs, scarves, tweeds and for bags – all weaving done on the two pedal looms here.

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The upper level has a wonderful exhibition space which houses a variety of exhibits. The one there currently was scheduled to coincide with our conference.

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Here are some of the creations of local artists, celebrating this magnificent sheep breed and the versatility of its wool.

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Here is one of the looms – with mill dog “Rick”.

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All in all, a very good conference with a lot of interesting talks and field trips. What a privilege to meet such an interesting breed and the people who care so passionately about its survival.

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[thanks again to Nathalie Ketterle for another really good ram photo!]

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Published in: on October 15, 2017 at 9:06 pm  Comments (1)  

Manx Loaghtan Sheep

These are the featured sheep of the conference, even though we also learn about other breeds in the group. Here is some information about them from a product tag from something made from their wool.

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We visited two different farms to see these sheep. Together they have about 1800 of this breed on the island. Another breeder has about 2000 and then there are some smaller flocks. Very beautiful sheep.

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Jenny Shepherd at Ballacosnahan Farm runs a program to encourage local small farmers to not use the same rams over and over again. She rents them rams from her group for 15 pounds ( about $20) per month. She keeps a wether in with them and says it seems to keep them all calmer!

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I have really enjoyed meeting and learning about these sheep whose name I couldn’t even pronounce before I came here! (Thanks to Nathalie Ketterle from Kollektion der Vielfalt for the last photo of rams).

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Published in: on October 14, 2017 at 9:46 pm  Comments (1)  

And I Am on the Isle of Man…..

Where? I had asked myself this question in the spring when planning this trip. For those of you not more informed than I was, it is an island in the Irish Sea between Ireland and England. It is a “crown dependency” of England, with it’s own government, currency and laws.

Four plane rides later, I am there.

A few local sights:

Horse drawn trams along the promenade by the sea.

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My hotel. The cream one in the middle. Very nice.

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An almost 100-year old oak that Queen Victoria planted.

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And they have their own mail trucks! More colorful than ours, I think.

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So, why am I here?

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This is the 7th year of the conference and I have never been before. It moves around to different countries who have short-tail sheep and share some history and heritage.

The Isle of Man has their own sheep – the Manx Loaghtan. Gorgeous. Two and four horned. Beautiful mouse brown (the meaning of “loaghtan”) fleece. “The sheep the Vikings left behind.”

More later!

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Published in: on October 13, 2017 at 9:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Little Things

Back from my spring wanderings and, as often after a trip where everything is different and new, I find I tend to focus on the little things at home on the farm.

We had been having some problems before I left with the chicken waterers. Really hard to get the covers off once that vacuum was created. Also hard to clean. I just didn’t have time to do anything about it before I left. But after seeing the waterers my friends had on the croft I decided to look into it upon my return. Voila! New waterers. Easy to open and easy to keep clean.

Something else I have been meaning to deal with is the drying of my fleeces. After carefully sorting and washing them, I tended to lose a little to the wind when drying them outdoors. My friend Colleen had shown me this idea awhile back but had not implemented it yet. By placing tulle (netting) on a drying rack and then the fleece on top, you can cover the drying fleece with more tulle which keeps it from blowing away and also keeps it from falling through the spaces on these racks, while giving the air room to move around the fleece, thereby drying it pretty quickly (especially when the temperatures are well over 100 which they are this week!)

 

Finally, not a problem I anticipated. I was looking for the sheep and could only find the camelids out. Where were they?

Nellie, “This was not my fault!”

They had managed to shut themselves in the barn! I managed to get them all back out, except Lessie, who was happy to help me in the hay room.

I may need to find a way to  keep this gate open after I open up in the morning. Perhaps an eyebolt in the wall and a chain and clip.

And now, something not related to this blog topic in particular but very much related to living on this farm. My husband grew up on a farm and even had sheep at one time. Over the years of living here when we would go back home to visit his family, I would have conversations with his Dad about farming practices in the past. When he saw we were serious about having sheep, he even gave me a couple of his sheep books and another book that is a compilation of old Farm Journals. These are so fascinating to look at.

But even more fascinating were my conversations with my father-in-law, glimpses into how things used to be. I had always thought of him as a man of few words but it did not take much to get him talking about farming. I think he knew every piece of equipment ever made and a lot about various sheep breeds, as well as cattle, chickens and pigs.

This past week my father-in-law was laid to rest. We will all miss him a lot. Thanks, Dad, for the books but most of all for all the good talks.

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Published in: on June 16, 2017 at 10:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

It Really is About the Sheep….

But I do want to start this last blog of the trip with an acknowledgment and huge thanks to those who made this trip possible and those who made it work along the way. Even though many of them will never see this blog , it needs saying nonetheless.

First, to my husband who helped keep things running smoothly at home, keeping materials organized to feed the flock and in general staying alert for problems (none of which seemed to have happened this time!) and is my biggest supporter in all things sheep. And thanks to Marni and Teddi who watched over and fed the flock.

Over here, our hosts Billy and Jenny at our flat in Lerwick (Shetland) who collected us from the airport and helped us with advice – even medical – and were a friendly couple to interact with. Big thanks to Steph’s mother, Kathy, who found us other things to do when weather cancelled some plans. Thanks to the tea shop ladies who were fun to talk with and to the tour guide who helped me find all those ponies and sheep even though he didn’t understand at first why I would want to look for sheep!

In the Outer Hebrides, Duncan, our bus driver, and all the pensioners on the bus that got us from Benbecula to Eriskay slipway. They were chatty and hilarious and made the trip much shorter. Chrissie, my host at the B&B for the last three days, thanks for her endless offers of strupak (tea and biscuits) and even a homemade meal my last evening, and her joking and lively converation. A special thanks to Jonathan and Denise for taking me to places I never would have found, all the descriptions of places and people, all the meals (and strupaks – my new favorite word!), and the packaging help, their explanations of how a croft works, and most of all for their friendship. And finally, to the man on the ferry who helped me feel confident about getting to the airport from the Barra ferry. If the bus left without us, he spoke with a crew member who offered to let us use his van to get to the airport. This is known as having a Plan B!

But now, on to the reason for these trips. Why I travel so far from home, leaving my flock and work so that I can explore other breeds of sheep and learn from the people who work with them and their fiber. Bringing these ideas and stories home can then inform the work I do with our flock and their fiber. One never knows what form that may take but it is an inspiration for sure.

So here are some final photos from South Uist.

This map shows the area I moved to for staying in the. B&B – An Leth Meadhanach and Baghasdal. Some of the photos are from that area or nearby areas in South Uist. Being advised to get off the main roads, I can see why that matters. You get closer to the sheep and it is easier to pull over to get those shots!

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Sheep here are used to rock climbing.

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These look like they were enjoying some sun that we did get.

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I decided it was also important to try and capture where these sheep live – which is everywhere. It became less important to try and get the perfectly composed photo (although I did try for a few of those as well!) but rather to show their everyday environment, even if it wasn’t pretty because this is their real life.

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Sheep are often crossing the road. This group would see me coming in the village and then would cross in front of the car, going back into their pasture through a hole in the fence. I think it was a regular routine. The second one seems to be saying, please don’t rush me!

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And even though I am not sure the Scottish Blackface wool or the cross (perhaps with Cheviot) wool is very valued here, I can’t help appreciating how the fleeces look on these animals. I would be happy to work with it!

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Of course, it is hard to beat the lambs with their cuteness factor added, whether they are nursing, playing or resting.

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Visiting during the spring has the added bonus of getting to see all the lambs and their proud mothers.

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It has been, as always, a pleasure to get to see these sheep in their natural environment and to appreciate the diversity here. Looking forward to more trips and more sheep!

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Published in: on May 27, 2017 at 6:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

The East Side of South Uist

My friends took me for a drive to see an area I had not yet seen – the east side of South Uist. How very different!

It was a very sunny day – even around 5 PM – and we caught the best light on the waters.

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The tide was coming in so it was like driving over a river in spots, where the sea ends in a loch.

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We saw Ormacleit Castle and the mountain Beinn Mhor, although I couldn’t capture the light and color here as I saw it.

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A very fun surprise – two buddies: a Shetland Pony and a Clydesdale. This place is full of surprises!

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Here you can see the dark area showing where the peats have been cut and a charming little footpath marked.

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And, of course, no trip out for me would be complete without a sheep spotting. Here is what may be one of my favorites of the Scottish Blackface. But then, I have a few more to share!

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Published in: on May 26, 2017 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Shearing – Hebridean Style

I got two opportunities to see shearing here this year. The first was also an opportunity to meet Paivi, a young woman from Finland who had just graduated from uni and was working locally for the season. She was very interested in learning about sheep and their wool and so Jonathan invited her to come for shearing. She helped gather in the six boys who are in Home Park.

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Jonathan showed her how nicely the fleece comes off if sheared along the body line right where this past year’s growth ends. Paivi did give a try and did quite well. She was also good at saying soothing things to the sheep – in Finnish! – to keep him calm during the process.

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Another day Jonathan sheared this year’s breeding ram, Scott. First, a little distraction with treats (sheep nuts) as we get ready. I think Rhubarb, already sheared, is saying, “Ha! I am already done. He won’t be grabbing me!” Looks a little smug, doesn’t he?!

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Jonathan uses a flat blade to do the hooves, which look remarkably clean to me.

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He starts by freeing the wool around the neck. Then the belly area.

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Jonathan indicates where the shearing line is. The blade is slid in before you cut.

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No stress here. The little wether is just curious about what is happening, perhaps having already forgotten his shearing of days before!

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Jonathan keeps shearing along the body line until as far past the spine as he can get before turning him over for the other side.

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Then, he is released and calmly stands up, perhaps a little surprised it is over so quickly. The result – a beautiful bag of fleece.

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Published in: on May 26, 2017 at 11:02 am  Leave a Comment  

A Lovely Drive

Our friends, Jonathan and Denise, took us for a very nice drive through South and North Uist. There is so much to see here but you have to know where to look. Hence, the valuable expertise of the locals!

We visited a local mill, Uist Mill, and looked at what they have been producing since Denise and I visited them a couple years ago when they were not fully up and running.

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Then we just explored! The landscape was beautiful, even in the rain.

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I love looking at all the old stone houses, some now not in use as homes but some may still be a part of the farm, in use for storage. Often built on rises.

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The big treat, however, and the purpose of all my trips, is to see the sheep. But, an added treat this time, red deer!

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Wait, what is THIS sheep doing here?! Did not expect to see a Herdwick!

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This area is just full of beautiful sheep! Here are some Cheviots and Scottish Blackface. Still looking for more. Yes, a very lovely drive!

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Published in: on May 24, 2017 at 1:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Sheep of the Croft

The reason I first found this croft was back in 2015 when I was looking for a place to visit with Hebridean Sheep. I had seen them at a sheep show in Melton Mowbray in 2011 and really liked their looks and temperament. Doing an on-line search, I found the Hebridean Woolshed.Hebridean Woolshed. This sounded very promising. Turns out, it was! This is my third trip to stay at one of their self-catering cottages. The really important one – the one with the An Garradh Mor flock of registered pedigree Hebridean Sheep.

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The sheep are currently divided between three of the four fields. Here Jonathan and I discuss some of this at the roadside gate to field 2.

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Last year, Jonathan made a really nice hand drawn map of the croft which he posted in his blog, The Big Garden and Croft. He has kindly agreed to let me insert a copy here. This may help you follow my descriptions in the rest of this post.

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Starting at the north end and going south, we begin with number 1: Home Park. This is where the most of the rams and wethers live. They have access to a shelter to get out of the wind and rain but also have to put up with those pesky geese and chickens who try to “share” their treats. A trade off, to be sure. A later post will look at the shearing of some of them. There are six there all together. And, depending on the time of day – and their routine – we catch site of them from our self-catering cottage on the croft.

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Moving southward, across the street from Field 1 is Field 2: Near Park. Here lives the ram, Scott, who was the sire for this year’s lambs. He is joined there by Rhubarb (his fleece looking a little brown right now but will be black when sheared) one of last year’s bottle babies, and another little wether. They shelter nicely with the rocks. These sheep are extremely hardy and are meant for this rugged landscape. As much as I say I would love some in California, it just wouldn’t be right. They belong here.

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Field 3 is Bothy Field, so named because it contains a bothy. A bothy is a small hut or cottage and, according to Wikopedia, usually left unlocked for anyone to use. This one would have been in use a long time ago.

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Things are always in flux on a croft as they often are on a farm in the States. Right now the Bothy Field is housing the ewes and lambs. In the future Jonathan expects to be using it for the ewes after they come back from their time in the hills in fall and they will use it until it is grazed out.

Jonathan drove me part way up the old road this trip and then we hiked the rest of the way up to the Bothy Field. I had wanted to see the ewes and lambs close up. Fantastic! I hope from this you can get a feel for the ruggedness of the setting and how perfectly suited to it these sheep are.

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Finally, Field 4: High Field. This is not fully enclosed yet. Jonathan has been re-doing the fencing on these fields, dragging all the materials up these steep hills by hand, digging and drilling through rock to put up fences that will securely contain the sheep. Jonathan: “When High Field is fully complete, it will be used for late spring-early summer grazing – until we’re satisfied the lambs (and their mums and last year’s lambs) are okay (and sheared!) to go through the gate up on to the common grazing.”

And now, a few words about this year’s bottle baby, Windy. On our trip up that late afternoon, we brought Windy’s evening bottle. Jonathan’s philosophy about bottle babies is that it is important for them to associate their feeding with where they live – with the flock, not at the house. So, she gets her meals on the croft, especially as time goes on. I got to feed her again today, up here on the hill.

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Jonathan would be collecting her now to go back over to their house where she snuggles down in her straw in the trailer for the night. We walk along, talking, with Windy running alongside and exploring.

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Suddenly, Jonathan says, “Do you notice anything? How many are there of us?” And then I realize Windy is no longer with us. She has rejoined her flock. Where she belongs.

Another great visit with the An Garradh Mor flock. Hope to see them again.

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Published in: on May 22, 2017 at 11:16 am  Leave a Comment  

The Non-Livestock Animals of the Big Garden

An important part of visiting the Big Garden here in South Uist is to check in with the non-livestock residents as well!

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Tilly the dog was happy to receive her new gift of a tug toy. She really likes it but only time will tell how long it will last!

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The cats received catnip cloth mice. The first reaction of Princess Pickle was tepid, at best.

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However, when presented with four mice, she warmed up a bit.

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And even manages to graciously share with one of her house mates (Tabitha?)

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Tilly is worn out from all the excitement of visitors.

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Thanks, Tilly, for sharing your family with us!

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Published in: on May 22, 2017 at 10:24 am  Leave a Comment