27 November 2008

Flat Stanley's Thanksgiving Dinner

Flat Stanley joined us for Thanksgiving dinner.

But first we had to make the mashed potatoes.

I had made some bread so Stanley got to see it.

The turkey looks great. It wasn't done so we had to cook it some more.

Oogie & Ray McGuinness at the table ready to eat.

Doing the dishes afterwards.

26 November 2008

Flat Stanley and the Sheep

Flat Stanley was freezing so we made him some coveralls. We have to go do some sheep work outside. This was his first introduction to our sheep toys.

Ewes in the chute ready to be worked with Stanley watching.

25 November 2008

Flat Stanley

Flat Stanley arrived from TN to visit us for a while. Here he is with Larry and Andrew as they are working on the new elk fence.

Larry's Back!

Larry's back to do the next section of big elk fence. This will be the last tall fence we put in. It will go from the hay barn around behind the house and will also enclose a small section of the cedars pasture.

We had to start taking down parts of the old fence. Here Ken's getting all the wire off the old corner brace.

Pulling posts.

13 November 2008

Toe Trimming & Deworming

Finished trimming toes on the last half of the adult ewes today. The sheep have better feet this year compared to other years. We've been culling for poor hoof growth patterns for a while but not very heavily. Seems to have made a big difference this year though. Next batch to do are the adult rams. Then we have to do toes on all the lambs from this year in 2 batches, ram lambs and ewe lambs. We use a grape pruning shears to trim hooves. They've got rounded tip blades that are curved and they work much better than any other type of trimmer. I like to have several sets of trimmers so that when one gets dull I can easily switch to a sharp set.

We also gave this batch of ewes their fall dewormer to remove nose bots. Nose bots are a significant parasite for our flock and ivermectin is the only dewormer that works on them. We still have half the ewes to deworm and all the rams, ram lambs and ewe lambs but at least we got started. We won't have to deworm until next spring before we turn out onto pasture.

07 November 2008

Sorting Sheep

No pictures but a lot of work. Today we sorted all the adult ewes into their breeding pens. I also got the toes trimmed on half of them. We've still got to trim toes on the rest of the adult ewes, all the rams and ram lambs and all the ewe lambs but it's a start. I only got one blister and hope it heals before I have to finish the job.

06 November 2008

Guard Dog

Winnie in the pen with some of her sheep. She is now guarding the adult rams who have not only their winter pen but the entire west side of the orchard to run in. We are hoping they will clean up the ground fall apples.

04 November 2008

Planning Breedings

I have the opportunity to run 14 primary breeding rams this year and 2 backup pens. Each primary ram will only have 4 ewes and then the backups will each have 28 ewes. This is a chance to use 16 different rams for breeding, an opportunity that is very rare and potentially really valuable.

Trying to plan how best to use this opportunity has taken a lot of work.

My first task was to evaluate and rank all my adult rams. I have 27 so there is a good set to choose from. I took my number 1 and number 2 ram and decided they are going to be my backups for this season. I then picked out the next best 20 rams that I would select my candidate primary rams from.

Then I tried to pick the four ewes to go together, find a primary ram. That went fairly well but when I got to the next step, put the backup pens together I got stuck. I wanted to combine groups of ewes so that I didn't have to sort or handle any sheep after the primary breeding to avoid any risk to the potential lambs from excess handling. I got bogged down in the problem of groups not being able to go to my chosen backups and using rams in more than one primary group which is impossible. I got frustrated and gave up for the day.

When I felt up to it I tried again. This time I worked the problem backwards.

I sorted all my ewes into major bloodline groups. Then I sorted the groups into the 2 backup ram pens. I took my 2 backup rams out of contention for use as primaries.

I took each separate group of ewes in a single backup pen and sorted them into 7 groups of 4 ewes each. These will be my primary breeding groups. In this sorting I tried to keep closely related ewes together (mom, daughters and granddaughters) or otherwise have groups of 4 that are very similar in quality and faults.

I then took all the potential rams I can use that I had identified before and took all their pedigrees and laid them out on the table so I could see and review all the pedigrees. I had 20 rams picked out as possible primary breeders. Only 18 pedigrees fit on the table so the other 2 are on the counter.

For each group of 4 ewes I would turn over the rams I could not use on them for one reason or another. I am trying not to double up on any Abbotstone Urwin bloodlinee. I also wanted to improve wool in some lines where wool has been poor and I wanted to focus on meat quality so tried to put ewes with rams that would improve the carcass traits in the lambs.

For each group of 4 ewes I picked out a number 1 and number 2 ram to use as a primary. I did each individual group of 4 ewes separately starting with all 20 potential mates.

Then I went through all the groups to make sure I did not have a ram used twice. Where I did I went to the backup ram for one or the other of the groups. I was left with only a single group of 4 ewes who had both their first and second choices being used already as rams because they were the first choice for some other group.

I then took those 4 ewes and did the process over again but took their number 3 ram for them.

The entire process from start to finish took about 4 hours but I now have all the matings planned.

I also got to review all my mating plans and choices with a good friend who is a retired animal science professor in California who also breeds sheep, goats and cattle.He agreed with not only my groupings of ewes and my reasons for grouping them that way but thought the mating plan made sense. There are some risky matings and some that are a test of rams that are unproven but on the whole I am pleased it worked out as well as it did.

Now to get all the girls bred and see what we get next spring!

03 November 2008

Meat Cutting

We got the opportunity to watch some of our sheep being processed at the slaughterhouse.

This is a typical carcass of a US line sheep.

First step is breaking the carcass in half.

This is the cross section. This is not a very meaty loin compared to some of our sheep.

We had one lamb show up with a spool joint. This is usually the designation for a mutton. She was only 6 months old. The carcass on the left has a break joint and is a lamb. The carcass on the right has a spool joint and is a mutton.

Frenching the racks.

Trimming all fat off.

Bagging the boneless roasts into netting .

The packages are prepared to be vacuum sealed.

Here they are being packaged by carcass into the boxes.

We learned a lot watching the crew work on our sheep. Our biggest impression is how much fat our sheep have on them. These are entirely grass finished and not fed any grains yet they had more fat cover than I expected to see. I can only imagine how fat they would get if fed grains.

The lamb that had to be marked as mutton was also interesting. Most Black Welsh are slow growing and it is unusual to have one grade out as a mutton when less than a year of age.

The meat cutting and packing crew was 8 people and it took about 20 minutes to fully process one carcass. That is one reason for the high cost of food. A good slaughterhouse has a very skilled set of workers and they spend a lot of time making sure the meat is cut to order. The difference between a small place like this one and a huge assembly line is obvious. The smaller plant cares and every person is skilled and can do most of the jobs. They know how to cut meat to individual orders and are willing to keep individual carcasses separate and tracked for us. A far cry from huge plants where each worker only does a single cut all day.

It's a pleasure to have such a good partner in providing our customers with good meat.

History Lecture to small Vision School Class

I was asked to give a short lecture to a very small 5 person class of Vision students about clothing from the timeframe of 1625 to 1750.

I dressed in my mantua and full Golden Age of Piracy outfit made from Reconstructing History patterns.

Spinning on a hand spindle. I am not very good at it.

My wheel is completely inaccurate but it is the only one I have so I used it.

In addition to demnstrating spinning, talking about the difference between woolen and worsted and touching briefly on the way textile manufacturing was organized at that time in history. I also gave out my top clothing and costume myths and we talked about them. My top myths are:

  1. Historical movies are a good way to see what the clothing was like.
  2. Stays, bodies and corsets are tight and uncomfortable and you cannot breathe or work in them.
  3. Lower classes only wear hand me downs from upper classes.
  4. Lower class clothing is cut the same as upper class clothing just from poorer fabrics or less embellished.
  5. Fabrics are all coarse and rough.
  6. Only browns and drab colors are available.
  7. Scottish wore tartans and Irish wore green.
  8. Clothing was unshaped and baggy. 
  9. Poor people didn't hem or mend their clothing.
  10. Embroidery and embellishments were only for the wealthy. 
  11. Women could show their shoulders. 
  12. Women could not show their feet or legs.
  13. No one had underwear.
  14. No one took a bath or washed their clothing.

I had a good time, the kids asked good questions and I think the teacher learned more than the kids.

02 November 2008

Making Cider!

Our orchard was primarily used to grow apples for cider. My mother had Kate's Sweet Cider as a business when I was in high school. We still own the crusher and press and had hoped to get it all running. This year we had a huge crop of apples. We couldn't get pickers and so most are feeding the sheep but our neighbors from Stone Cottage Winery came over and we made one press load of cider from the remnant apples.

First the apples had to get picked. The Helleckson's used the low effort picking method.

Ken and I walked on the ground and picked what we could reach. The apples had frozen and most had fallen so it was not really easy to find good ones. Any that looked too bad we tossed to the ground for the sheep to eat later.

The wine press was brought over. Ken had done a lot of work on the apple crusher to get it ready to run and so we used our crusher and the Helleckson's wine press.

Our first discovery was that the angle was wrong for the entry funnel and the crusher tossed apples right back at us. We put the table up on blocks and built a quick makeshif shield and got the apples crushed.

Brent watching the juice come out.

It was dark before we finally finished and started the cleaning process.

The cake of apple leftovers.

Final cleaning of the main pressing bladder.

We picked about 3/4 of a bin of apples and got about 30 gallons of juice. Ken and I kept about 5 gallons which we have frozen. It was really nice to finally have real cider again.