Naturally Dyed Yarn

Natural Colors

Saxon Merino Sheep
Y&F Newletter

News and Blog

Posted 3/31/2009 9:04pm by Catskill Merino.


The Three Tenors Sing O Solo Mio

9 lambs were born today: 2 sets of twins and 5 singles; the births were evenly spaced throughout the day making it easier than  yesterday with its simultaneous births.  In addition to handling the new lambs and moms, the project of the day was to dock  the tails of lambs born earlier and to move them outside to join the older lambs. 

Then, after feeding grain to the mothers in the yard, I shot video of their lambs running as they uniquely do in the first weeks of life  The lambs are discovering what their legs can do; and as a flock, 20-30 of them will run from one end of the yard to the other end, back and forth they'll go picking up more runners as other lambs join the fun, overlapping and turning into one another like starlings in flight; but the lambs only run when they can't be seen by their dams who ignore them while eating grain, their heads deep in the feeders devouring the whole oats I put out.  When the ewe's away...those dour, but wise, old mothers must have their reasons to damper this lamb foolery. 

Carrying on, the lambs can levitate; straight up they go with four legs jumping at once to land on all hooves; their nonplussed looks saying, "look what my legs just did," before they bound along up the hill after their mates. 

I want to post my lambs-at-play video, but I'm still too busy in the barn for a day off to learn my editing software—sooner or later the ewes will give me a break.  Pictured above are Placido, José and Luciano, the triplets born yesterday, who are doing well and singing loudly about it.

Posted 3/30/2009 9:34pm by Catskill Merino.
A shepherd's dozen, 14 lambs born today: 5 singles, 3 sets of twins and another set of triplets; that's three sets of trays—quite unusual for merino ewes. 
I say "born today," but when I got to the gestating-ewe yard this morning, 5 ewes had lambed during the night.  They were within 20 feet of each other and they were surrounded by a confusion of 9 lambs anxiously milling about, each trying to find the right mother, (one twin may stumble toward Boston while the other twin lurches toward Philadelphia—what's a New York mother to do) all baaing plaintively in the midst of 140 other ewes about to lamb.  Chaos: the sheep looked as sure of themselves as the GOP does under Rush Limbaugh, who in reality looks like a rather delinquent ewe.  Oh well, not everyone can be a ram, Rush.
I wanted to show rather than explain to you what we do to get the right lamb with the right mother, I have video of how we ID lambs, born in a field, and get them  back to the barn with their proper dams. 
I shot the footage of this a couple of days ago; today I  had planned to approach the learning curve of my new editing software, Adobe Premier Elements 7 to cobble together a little film about new-born care.  But all I could do was act in my own play—taking care of sheepthere was no time for any art other than the maternal. 
Maybe the sheep will give me an easy day tomorrow (with 3-4 births) for my humble montage.
Posted 3/29/2009 5:30pm by Catskill Merino.
Lactating Ewes & Lambs
 Lactating Ewes & Lambs
Two weeks into lambing, with three weeks to go, we have 78 lambs on the ground.  The colored spray marks (washable) that you see on the sheep are codes that identify the ewe to the lamb from a distance because we must quickly know who belongs to whom if one of them is not eating or something else questionable is going on. 
At lambing the ewe is usually excited and moving around, and she is harder to mark; we spray her first any where we can: on the head if she's licking her lamb, on the rump if she's running by, then we coorespondingly spray the same color on the lamb at the same place—head or rump and so forth.
Posted 3/26/2009 6:06pm by Catskill Merino.
Seven ewes lambed today yielding 3 single lambs and 4 sets of twin lambs; of these, 6 were ewes & 5 were rams bringing the total to 58 lambs on the ground.  It was a busy day—all lambs came on Dominique's morning watch—but luckily the lambs were healthy and their dams were attentive. 
Greenmarket's Davy Hughes was up here Tuesday to video lambs being born with his Kodak Zi6 Pocket HD Video Camera which looks like a Blackberry and is not too much bigger.  He got some good footage of the sheep, of  the lambs, of the lambing barn, of us, but in the several hours he spent here, he wasn't able to get a ewe lambing—the ewes were camera shy. 
And without video of actual lambing, he had no movie. He was planning to come up to the farm again to see if he could happen upon a lamb being born; it seems that when people do come to see lambs born the ewes don't produce for them, but maybe he would get lucky.
In the meantime my Zi6 arrived from Amazon (cheaper than from Kodak) and today about 4 PM a ewe lambed when I was there, Kodak in hand, to capture the process from contraction, to parturition, to the ewe licking her baby, to Dominique luring the ewe into the barn by carrying its lamb.
Sunday, Davy will edit my footage; if it's suitable  (not too shaky, framed well enough, etc.) he can combine it with his and he should have his film about sheep farming with lambing as its centerpiece.  I will embed the video in the blog early next week.
Posted 3/25/2009 9:55pm by Catskill Merino.
Lactating Ewes
Lactating Ewes
6 ewes lambed today bringing the total to 47 lambs: 20 ewes and 27 rams.  We are about a quarter of the way through lambing which continues for 2 ovulation cycles or 36 days, the length of time we kept the breeding rams with the ewes.  The births have been without complications, the lambs have been vigorous and the ewes attentive to their newborns.  
The lambing barn is on a hill swept by the chilly north wind.  To protect the lactating ewes, we fenced in a yard on the southerly side of the barn; there, separated from the gestating ewes, the ewes with lambs can enjoy larger portions of grain, a healthy mix of 65% whole oats, 25% cracked corn and 10% soy flakes (sheep granola), required by nursing mothers who must eat not only for themselves but for their rapidly growing babies too.
Posted 3/25/2009 8:10am by Catskill Merino.

"Shopping at Whole Foods is a literary experience. That's not to take anything away from the food, which is generally of high quality, much of it 'certified organic' or 'humanely raised' or 'free range.' But right there, that's the point: It's the evocative prose as much as anything else that makes this food really special. ...

"With the growth of organics and mounting concerns about the wholesomeness of industrial food, ... it is Whole Foods that consistently offers the most cutting-edge grocery 'lit.' On a recent visit I filled my shopping cart with eggs 'from cage-free vegetarian hens,' milk from cows that live 'free from unnecessary fear and distress,' wild salmon caught by Native Americans in Yakutat, Alaska (population 833), and heirloom tomatoes from Capay Farm (S4.99 a pound), 'one of the early pioneers of the organic movement.' The organic broiler I picked up even had a name: Rosie, who turned out to be a 'sustainably farmed' 'free-range chicken' from Petaluma Poultry. ...

"The organic movement, as it was once called, has come a remarkably long way in the last thirty years, to the point where it now looks considerably less like a movement than a big business. Lining the walls above the sumptuously stocked produce section in my Whole Foods are full-color photographs of local organic farmers accompanied by text blocks setting forth their farming philosophies. A handful of these farms still sell their produce to Whole Foods, but most are long gone from the produce bins, if not yet the walls. That's because Whole Foods in recent years has adopted the grocery industry's standard regional distribution system, which makes supporting small farms impractical. Tremendous warehouses buy produce for dozens of stores at a time, which forces them to deal exclusively with [huge] farms. ...

"The question is, ... just how well does [today's organic] hold up under close reading and journalistic scrutiny? [Not that well]. At least that's what I discovered when I traced a few of the items in my Whole Foods cart back to the farms where they were grown. I learned, for example, that some (certainly not all) organic milk comes from factory farms, where thousands of Holsteins that never encounter a blade of grass spend their days confined to a fenced 'dry lot,' eating (certified organic) grain and tethered to milking machines three times a day. ...

"I also visited Rosie the organic chicken at her farm in Petaluma, which turns out to be more animal factory than farm. She lives in a shed with twenty thousand other Rosies, who, aside from their certified organic feed, live lives little different from that of any other industrial chicken. Ah, but what about the 'free-range' lifestyle promised on the label? True, there's a little door in the shed leading out to a narrow grassy yard. But the free-range story seems a bit of a stretch when you discover that the door remains firmly shut until the birds are at least five or six weeks old--for fear they'll catch something outside--and the chickens are slaughtered only two weeks later."

Michael Pollan, Omnivore's Dilemma, Penguin, Copyright 2006 by Michael Pollan, pp. 134-140.  From

Posted 3/24/2009 1:31pm by Catskill Merino.

First Party Certification is asking the farmer at market how he grew the produce that you are buying. Second Party Certification is asking the trusted farmer at the next stand, "Is that guy telling me the truth?" 

Third Party Certification is believing the signs at Whole Foods, or those of any independent agency endorsing food at market.

Posted 3/23/2009 3:03am by Catskill Merino.

After a slow start lambing is well underway with 33 lambs on the ground at the end of the first week:  15 ewe lambs and 18 ram lambs, all weighing between 6 & 8 lb. at birth—good birth weights for my 125 lb. ewes—lambs that are slim enough to deliver easily but with a fat reserve sufficient to ensure their survival on the critical first days of life as they realize instinctively, but by trial and error, the goodness of mom and milk. 

22 ewes have lambed so far; there have been 2 sets of triplets, 7 sets of twins and 13 singles.

Posted 3/22/2009 7:39pm by Catskill Merino.
Aileen's Mom's Scarf
Cables in Deep Indigo
Aileen came by the stand to get two more skeins of indigo for her mom to finish this lovely scarf.  Cable patterns take more yarn; perhaps someone can tell us how much additional yarn would be required by a cabled pattern compared to a stockinette pattern. Half again as much, or more, or less?
I hope she wears it by when finished.  Spring is almost here, yet we still need wool to keep warm.  This  winter has been colder than any I can remember, not by its extremes but  by its constancy: the unrelenting sub-freezing temperatures with nary a warm spell have been unusual.
Posted 3/19/2009 8:12pm by Catskill Merino.
Later on day 4, for the evening lamb check, Poem and I drove to the farm at dusk to find 6 healthy lambs: 3 singles and a set of triplets (the three were an hour old) born this afternoon.  Lambing has come like welcome rain.