Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fair week will be off and running starting tomorrow morning.  The day before the fair opens all of the animals come to the fairgrounds.  Before they can be admitted to the barns all of our local veterinarians examine them for signs of contagious diseases.  In sheep that can included foot rot, sore mouth and keds (sheep lice).

A big thanks to all of these vets that volunteer their time at the fair every year. (The sheep would especially like to thank Dr. Robert Moody!)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

2014 Lambing Season Begins!

Long time sheep barn exhibitor, Joanne Martinis, has just started lambing.  Joanne is in the Gotland upbreeding program (see Saturday, April 7, 2012 post).  Each year she artificially inseminates her ewes in this program with 100% Gotland semen in the fall brought in from Sweden.  Because she does this in early fall, her sheep start lambing in early February (sheep have a gestation period of about 5 months).

 So far, Joanne has had three sets of lambs...two are twins and the other set are triplets.  The twins are Joannes first lambs ever that are over 90% Gotland while the triplets are 84% Gotland.  Congratulations Joanne for getting this far in the upbreeding program!

 She also got a nice 50/50 mix of ewe lambs and ram lambs this year.  I'm looking forward to seeing them at the fair this summer.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Vet Check

Vet check for sheep that will be exhibited at the Whidbey Island Fair will be Wednesday, August 14th at 9:00am in front of the sheep barn. 

Dr. Robert Moody, DVM

Local large animal veterinarian, Dr. Robert Moody will be volunteering his time once again to help us out with this important aspect of the fair.  All sheep must be inspected by him before they will be allowed into the barn on Wednesday morning.  Inspection by a veterinarian helps us insure that all animals that come to the fair are healthy and won't pass on any contagious diseases to other exhibitors animals.

If you will be exhibiting sheep at the fair, please be on time to help us get Dr. Moody on his way to the next barn he will be inspecting!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Tansy Ragwort

Time to pull Tansy Ragwort ...

First year tansy ragwort

I walked through part of our pasture yesterday, only to discover that the tansy ragwort have gotten close to the flowering stage.  Due to our warm, early spring they seem to be ahead of schedule for blooming this year.  The  second year plants in the pasture ranged from one foot to five feet tall, depending on their location.

Tansy ready to bloom

Now is the time to get out and pull these plants out.  If the soil is not too dry, you can usually grab them firmly by the base of the stem and pull most of the root systems out (except for the big ones you broke off last year!)

Flower heads just starting to open

At this stage you can lay them in a hot area to dry and then burn them later.  Don't wait too long though, or the flowers will open and they will start to go to seed!

Tansy ragwort flower head just starting to open.

**For more about this invasive species and their impact on livestock go to my August 12, 2012 post.  Please help us control this plant**

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Few Comments about Rams...

I got a new ram a few weeks ago.  He's a pure breed Shetland ram that came from a farm near Bow, WA.  We haven't had a ram on our farm for about a year and a half.  I'm looking forward to breeding him this fall to some of my ewes.  Most people that show in the Open classes at the fair probably have at least one ram in their flock unless they are breeding via artificial insemination.  Most 4-Her's buy their sheep as lambs and are not involved in breeding their sheep.

'DonnasSheep Shaun the Sheep' Shetland ram

Unfortunately, I'd forgotten about rams...he likes to rub his horns on the fenceline and has tried to test the strength of the fence with this head a few times as well.  As rams go, he's been really good.  But my fence has a few 'bulges' in it after only a few weeks - something you wouldn't see with a ewe.

During the fair you will probably have the chance to see a few rams on exhibit.  Rams from some breeds have horns while others do not.  Most of the time if an exhibitor brings a ram to the fair you will see a small sign on the pen that says something like, 'Please Do Not Pet Me on the Head'.

Sheep are animals that live in flocks.  Within the flock there is a hierarchy among the animals - some are the leaders and some are the followers.  All sheep determine dominance by butting each other with their heads.  Within the flock, rams are always on top. 

If you come up to a ram at the fair and pet him on the head, he assumes that you are showing your dominance over him, and his response is to try to butt you back with his head.  It may seem like all fun and games at the fair, but when a ram gets used to butting humans, it can be dangerous.  If a ram decides to charge you while you are in his pen, he may hit you with enough force to break your leg.

So far Shaun has been a very respectful fellow.  He has not been socialized to people...and at this point he likes to keep his distance when I come into his pen.  As the summer goes on, I'm hoping to work with him to get him used to contact with people.  I plan to give him a scratch under the chin when he lets me get close.  This is a great way to give him a pet and keep his head up so he won't butt. It's important that a ram always regards you as the dominant member of his flock...but just in case, I don't plan to turn my back on him! 

So, when you see that sign at the fair that says, 'Please Do Not Pet Me on the Head', remember to give the ram in that pen a scratch on the chin if he seems friendly!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

2013 Sheep Show Judge

Just a quick note to let everyone know that our judge for the 2013 Whidbey Island Fair Sheep and Fleece show will be Amy Wolf.

Amy Wolf judging during the 2011 Whidbey Island Fair
Amy judges on the national level and we are honored once again to have her come to judge our show.  Amy is unusual in that she knows both the qualities that make a good meat sheep as well as the characteristics of the various fiber breeds of sheep.

Along with judging sheep, Amy also runs her own fiber business and shears sheep.  Recently, she did a shearing demonstration at Kelsey Creek Farm Park in Bellevue that was written up in the Seattle times http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2020876377_sheepshearingxml.html .

I'm really looking forward to Amy's enthusiasm, knowledge and positive comments once again this year as she comes to judge at the fair!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Dye Day

Lois Fisher and Nancy Baggott pulling dyed yarn out of a dye pot
Earlier this year, Whidbey Weavers Guild member Nancy Baggott organized a 'dye day' for any of the local weavers, spinners and knitters that wanted to come.  We all met up at the Pacific Northwest Art School in Coupeville on a cold, rainy day and went to work.

Extra large dye pot with yarn ready for color

Many of us went our separate directions while Nancy and several helpers worked on the large dye pot that Chris Lubinski had brought.  This dye pot had a large tube in the middle with a glass inside for water.  The natural fiber yarns or roving (a long thick 'rope' of processed wool fiber that had not yet been spun into yarn) were set into the pot and wrapped around the center tube.

Liquid dye being applied to a natural colored roving

After the layer of yarn or roving was in the pot, it was then saturated with liquid dye.  In this case the dyers wanted the finished product to have several colors on it.  The metal tube in the center kept the liquid dyes from pooling in the center bottom of the kettle and helped provide better color separation.

'Squishing' the dyes into the entire yarn or roving

When the dyes had been applied, the dyers donned rubber gloves and used their gloved hands to 'squish' the dye into the entire section of yarn or roving it had been applied to.  This allowed for better color absorption into the fiber and no stray white, undyed areas in the finished product.  Once this was done, the pot was ready to be placed over a heat source to help 'set' the dye so that it would be color and light fast (not fade at a later time).

Because this pot was so large, it had to be placed over a gas or propane burner to heat up. Due to fire codes, the burners were outside in the parking lot.

Jan Dodge dyeing her wool outside in the rain!

When the dye pot is placed on the burner, the water in the center pipe turns to steam.  This steam is hot enough to set the dyes.  Because this process needs to be timed, someone has to be outside with the pots carefully watching the whole process.  On this particular January day, it was really miserable job!

Removing the yarn from the finished dye pot

After the pot had been heated for the appropriate length of time, the pot was brought back inside and the yarns and roving were removed.  The dyed material was then rinsed in clear water to remove any excess dyes that didn't bond to the fiber, but might be still in the dye pot. Seeing this newly dyed fiber is always the best part of dye day!

Joanne Martinis measuring out powder dye stuffs

During dye day, several different dyes and techniques were used by the dyers.  The large dye pot shown above was dyed with liquid 'acid' dyes.  These chemical dyes required the use of vinegar to help set the color along with the heat.  Some dyers used a dye stuff that was in the form of a powder that required being mixed with water to form a solution before it could be used.  Other dye stuff was in the form of plant material.

Painted skein of yarn

Some of the dyers 'painted' their skeins of yarn with dye, wrapped them in saran warp and then placed them in a slow cooker to heat up as a way of setting their dyes.

Dyeing with natural dyes

Those of us with smaller pots had the option of using electric burners to heat our pots.  In this case, I was dyeing with natural dyes.  The dye stuff (madder roots and onion skins) had to be heated up first to extract the dye color from them.  The yarns (or raw wool in my case) also had to be washed to remove all of the natural lanolin and then heated in a metal salt solution for an hour to allow the wool to better bond with the natural dye.  This process is called 'mordanting'.  I used alum as my mordant.

Raw wool dyed yellow from onion skins

Pot filled with madder root is heated to extract the red color

After the color was extracted from the madder root, the roots were removed from the pot and the wool was put in.  The wool and dye were heated to about 180 degrees for an hour.  Because the color was not dark enough, I left the wool in the dye pot overnight (without any heat) to try to increase the color saturation.  In my case, I did not wash my wool well enough before I dyed it, so consequently the extra lanolin that was not washed out of the wool effected the dye uptake.

Madder dyed Shetland wool and yarn spun from it
Next August when you have a chance to visit the Whidbey Island Fair, stop at the sheep and alpaca barns to see the source of all of this wonderful fiber.  Next visit the fleece display in the Malone Building to get a sense of the variety of texture and colors these fiber animals produce and then wander through the display that the Whidbey Weavers Guild puts together with handspun yarn, hand woven and hand knitted garments and talk to the guild members that are demonstrating weaving and spinning.  You might just want to try your hand at one of these old crafts!

***Don't forget the the Whidbey Weavers Guild Spin-In is this coming weekend, April 6 & 7, 2013 at the Oak Harbor High School.  For more information, follow this link:http://www.whidbeyweaversguild.org/ ***