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Posted 3/19/2009 7:52am by Catskill Merino.
On the chin
To check focus, I enlarge the photographs I've taken to look at the eyelashes or whiskers of the subject.  This shot was made using a Nikon D700 mounted with a Nikon 70-200 mm f 2.8 VR telephoto zoom lens;  the Focal Length was 170 mm, the Exposure was 1/200 sec at f /20 and the ISO was 1400. 
The camera was handheld and the photo was taken about 10' from the sheep; other than the enlargement, it has not been retouched.  Even from a respectable distance this lens is intimate; when I photograph passers-by in Union Square, the portraits show pores, wrinkles, scars, and blemishes  that only a person kissing the face would know.  
Dominique does the morning lamb check and I look in on the ewes in the evening, but if she needs me I'll be there.  I got a text message from her this morning, "no lambs," as of the early lamb check on day 4 of lambing.
I guess I'll finish my taxes.
Posted 3/18/2009 7:34pm by Catskill Merino.
Cannondale Synapse

Today finishes the day 3 of lambing; one would expect  twenty lambs on the ground now, but we have one: ram lamb number 001 to be exact.  We should be busy in the lambing barn; instead we wait.  Most of the ewes are bagging up (showing udder development) and they are due, have been due, will be due...all twenty plus ten more will lamb tomorrow; I'm as sure of this today as I was sure of it yesterday.

The sheep are not worried so why should I be; they're laying around in the warm sun, ruminating on something pleasant—what I don't knowbut each has a peaceful, lost-in-thought expression like my brother Kirk had when he sat across the kitchen table from me at breakfast, eating Shredded Wheat with milk and sugar, dreaming about the Indian lore he read on the cards from inside the Nabisco box.

With the weather this afternoon, I decided to take my Cannondale Synapse out for its maiden ride on the Heritage Trail.  The tires needed air after not having ridden the bike there since October; the branches overhanging the trail are barren now, but the buds will redden and  the leaves will burgeon green—like me, the trees are waiting.

Posted 3/17/2009 9:22pm by Catskill Merino.
First Lamb of the Spring

"No one will be watching us, why don't we do it in the road..."  The White Album.

Finally, lambing begins on day two.  About 4 PM, just minutes before I arrived for my evening lamb check, ewe 258 had a healthy ram lamb.  From outside the fence, I  watched the pair: the lamb was calm and the ewe was attentive to her little man.  Good. Older lambs, having been born last summer and never having seen a birth before, came over to sniff the newborn; the ewe permitted their curiosity but kept her head close to her baby nuzzling it and cooing in that unique gurgling sound of new mothers that I will record for you when I get my Kodak Zi6 pocket video camera from Amazon later in the week.

I slowly approached, one hand carrying my D700 mounted with a Nikon 70-200 mm lens, a telephoto zoom to keep my distance if the ewe needed it, a lens that was long enough to get close-ups of the two from 15 feet away—stopping, taking photos, advancing, I came up—the other hand holding a bag of lambing supplies: ear tags, ear tag pliers and spray markers for identification, and a bottle of 7% iodine to disinfect and desiccate the lamb's umbilical cord.

With no fuss, the ewe let me pick up and ear tag her lamb, 001, then dip his navel in iodine.  She and I were moving, not in slow motion but deliberately, if not with a tai chi chuan flow then in a slow dance of alternating leads: she then I, then she again—considerate we were of her lamb—our eyes avoided contact and the world was right for us at that moment of newness.  I put the lamb down,  rose and stepped back; I typed a self-addressed email on my Blackberry "258 001 r" and copied it to Dominique.  Back at my iMac running XP I will copy and paste that data into my lambing records in Excel.

The afterbirth tells me that the ewe will not have another lamb—no twin here—if the sac protruding from her vagina were filled with clear (not bloody) amniotic fluid we would be expecting another lamb or two.  The afterbirth will fall away from the ewe within the hour.

My last two kelpies, Miss and Shade, loved to eat afterbirth—good and tasty—they would sniff it out, a week old, buried in the barn's bedding and run like furtive-eyed Wall Street thieves (something this rich must be a no-no), the long gore hanging from their greedy mouths, to a safe spot where they could chomp down, eye the devil, and enjoy their meal.  Poem hasn't learned of this barnyard delicacy yet; but she will, as a dog's sense of smell is 100 times more acute than our own: she can smell an AIG broker and his credit default swaps from a mile away.
Posted 3/16/2009 9:38pm by Catskill Merino.

It's not Dancing with the Stars, but you might be a feature of the Knitter's Slideshow; take a look.

Posted 3/15/2009 9:15pm by Catskill Merino.
Brooding Ewes
No lambs today. Odd. Usually I'll find early arrivals. Tomorrow marks 5 months since the rams joined the ewes.  I look in on the ewe flock more often now, waiting too.
The temperature today was in the high 50's and dry; this is good weather to lamb outside, but as insurance we lamb near a barn to bring lambs and ewes inside if they are having trouble during inclement weather; an absence of problems at parturition and good weather means no barn and no special care for the sheep. When a ewe has a good birth and a healthy lamb, all we do is dip the lamb's navel in iodine, eartag it, record the ewe's number and let mom & lamb(s) go.  This is what I call modified pasture lambing where we help those who need help and let the rest do what they do best, be sheep.  Pasture lambing means letting nature take her course and that road leads to life or death; but with a small flock of 200 lambing ewes I can help the weak, and I do.
Notice the blow marks of shearing: good shearers leave ridges of wool on the sheep rather than taking another blow to slick shear the sheep (making it look pretty & well shorn), thereby losing this short wool (called a 2nd cut) between the slats of the skirting table.  
We will keep wool to spin that has a staple length of 3"; anything shorter is devalued or lost.  If a shearer leaves wool on a sheep, it will be there to shear next year; good shearing looks like sloppy shearing to the unschooled eye.
Posted 3/10/2009 8:07pm by Catskill Merino.
Michael shears the belly of a ram lamb
On March 2nd and 3rd we sheared the flock.  David Hughes, in charge of operations at the Union Square Greenmarket—market in & market out—came up to video the shearing: the goings on and the comings off.
Tom shears around an ear
The neck is the hardest part of a merino to shear
 Chris cleans a fleece on the skirting table
Crowding to the windows for warmth from the sun
427 the day before
427 the day after

Shearing almost 400 sheep took two days—two very cold days—but we got through it, as we always do, with an excellent crew: Tom and Michael, the shearers with Mark, Dominique, Chris, Clyde, Chalmers and me, the roustabouts. The fleece is exquisite and the sheep are fine.

Posted 3/8/2009 8:07pm by Catskill Merino.

Buy Lamb Bacon from the Lamb Store.

We listen.  Responding to "more lamb belly," a cri de gastronome for the coming year by New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni who is an outspoken omnivore devouring all manner of offal, we're doing something with lamb belly that may appeal to his appetite: we've come out with a lamb bacon, made by curing the belly in a brine of brown sugar & salt (with no nitrates) for several days then smoking it over a cherry wood fire before slicing it thickly; and—clankingly with a pot-and-pan fanfarewe brought our new lamb belly to the stand in Union Square for the first time last Saturday.

According to the Tasting Table editors; well versed in the culinary arts, but lacking when it comes to Hellenistic saltations, specifically ignoring how mascara-eyed Fatima, wiggling her umbilical, drives the blonde, blue-eyed patrons of Plato's Cave—Zagat Rated—the most famous belly-dancing club in Astoria Queens wild; "lamb bacon is the hottest new belly in town," the TT editors say.  But O woe, Fatima doesn't like to hear that she's no longer the top banana of  New York bellies.  Because lamb has less fat than pork, lamb bacon stays more tender when crisped. It is preferred for its meaty texture and rich flavor.  Now Fatima's sipping ouzu and really getting pissed; she will soon take the stage dancing in what will be described as "nihilistic belly rampage" by the LIC/Astoria  Journal.

Go to midtown for the evening and order dishes made with lamb belly at Anthos, the Greek spot on 52nd St., as you mingle with the ghosts of Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and other jazz musicians who played in the nightclubs along "Swing Street" between 5th Ave. & 7th Ave. in the 40's & 50's.

When you're safely home and after a good night's sleep, Daniel Meyer will tell you how to make lamb bacon in your own kitchen—to start from scratch you'll need half a belly (called a lamb breast)—you can find his recipe in Bitten, Mark Bittman's blog on food in the Dining & Wine section of the New York Times.

The Catskill Merino Lamb BLT


  • 4+ thick slices of lamb bacon
  • 2   slices of white bread
  • 1   juicy tomato
  • 4   crunchy leaves of Iceberg lettuce from near the heart
  • 1   tbs. mayonnaise (homemade recipe)


  • Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, add lamb bacon slices and fry until lightly crisped.
  • Drain lamb bacon on paper towels.
  • Lightly toast one side of bread until golden.
  • Brush un-toasted side of bread with skillet drippings, then spread with mayonnaise.
  • Layer the lettuce, lamb bacon and tomato on one slice of bread and top with second slice.
  • Gently press the sandwich together until the tomato drips.

Makes one sandwich, but who could stop there. 

We will have lamb bacon at the farm stand every Saturday—get to Union Square as early as you can to bring home the bacon.

Posted 3/5/2009 7:38pm by Catskill Merino.
Light on Shearing
In one of the coldest spells of the year, the setting sun streams through the cob-webbed windows of the Persoon's abandoned, 83-cow dairy barn where we sheared almost 400 sheep; the temperature was in the teens during the day with winds blowing snow sideways and it dropped to well below zero at night factoring in the wind chill.  Inside the barn, protected from the wind, the shorn sheep were comfortable; their body heat warmed the low-ceiling space.
Posted 3/5/2009 7:19pm by Catskill Merino.
Who knit these good looking hats—Mu!
Posted 3/5/2009 6:57pm by Catskill Merino.

Ryan & Lamb

When Ryan works the stand, sometimes he wants to be paid in lamb.  What impresses me is that Ryan brings his lunch in Tupperware on a screaming black Ducati as if New York didn't have places to eat. 

Maybe Ryan knows something we don't; maybe New York dines dumb; maybe Ryan's that good a cook. 

Here, he enjoys a thick slice from a boneless leg of lamb that he baked with the root vegetables of winter: potatoes, carrots, turnips, rutabagas and seasoned with garlic, rosemary and a splash of vino blanco.