We’re here!

I don’t know why I thought I’d be back on the blog the night we moved in, but I did. And I wasn’t. In fact, we didn’t have internet for a whole 3 days! It was glorious! We haven’t had a house phone in a few years, but now that we’re staying put forever, I’d like to get one again. Of course, I’m being picky about the phone itself, and “hooking it up” isn’t as simple as it used to be. Voice Over Internet Protocol {VOIP, like Vonage} + circa 1970’s phone wiring = kinda tricky. So it’s not quite ready. TV has been a challenge too, much to the chagrin of Farmer Tripp – no line of sight for Dish OR DIrecTV satellites means no network television at Owl Moon Farm.

The chickens arrived on Saturday. The hawks were here Monday and I spotted 2 nasty-looking vultures Tuesday {can you believe they’re Federally protected?!?!}. As if I needed any convincing, I’m now 100% sure it’s time for us to get a farm dog! My little hound mix is a great hunter, but he’s really only interested in deer and rabbits. He’s never been much of a predator-control dog, and he’s 11, so we’re looking into getting a puppy to help protect us and the livestock from bears, coyote, fox, birds, strangers, etc. Fortunately, a good friend of Tripp’s lives just an hour and a half from here and raises Old-Time Scotch Collies, a heritage breed of dogs with excellent all-around farm dog skills – herding, predator-control, varmint-control, family protection and general assistance. They’re sweet and gentle with their family and though they won’t attack a stranger, they’ll certainly let you know someone’s around that shouldn’t be. Kurt and Leslie at Mountain Wave Farm in Blacksburg have been very helpful in making this important decision and we look forward to visiting their new litter this weekend. The pups are about 6 weeks old now, ready for their new homes around Sept 14th. I can’t wait!

Today I dropped the children off at a friend’s house {not just a friend, Betty happens to be the woman who used to own our farm!} while I made a “quick” trip to Charlottesville to pick up some more laying hens. If you haven’t been keeping score at home, we started with 16, lost 4, got 8, lost 9, hatched 3 {all dead now} so we were down to 4 hennies. The only survivor of our original flock, our sweet Buff Orpington mama who sat on three clutches in 2013 and managed to hatch the only egg she sat on this summer; plus 2 Rhode Island Reds and an unknown hen, all of which were among the donation birds last summer. Grandpa found a posting on the CraigsList for some Buff Orpington poults {bigger than chicks but not yet old enough to lay eggs} so I went on over and got 8 hens + 1 rooster. We actually really liked our Buff rooster, but he was one of our first predator casualties in 2012. When our Barred Rock rooster turned out to be a mean SOB and he and the Dominique rooster were killed this spring, I decided any replacements would have to be Buffs. In fact, I think we’re officially moving towards 100% Buff Orpingtons now, so we will have a purebred stock. Who knows, maybe we can even sell fertilized eggs, chicks or poults!

Here’s a picture of the pen I “made” for the poults. I purchased a run extension from the local Tractor Supply designed to attach to the Chick’n + Rabbit Hutch they sell. For $129 I thought it would be a secure enclosure for the teenage chickens. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have anything on the back, so I added some 2×4 fence wire and then put some plastic tarp over top for sun/rain protection. It’s only for a week or so, until all the birds get to know each other, and in the future, we can use it when a mama has a clutch of eggs, someone needs special care or medication, or even as a puppy run. For extra security, I plan to change out the 2×4 wire for some 1×1 hardware mesh {like what’s on the rest of the pen} after the girls move into the regular chicken house next week.

Owl Moon Farm Chick Brooder

Quarantine Pen which can be a brooder, an ICU, puppy run…whatever we need.

Our new tractor should be delivered tomorrow. Honestly, I’ve left this one up to Farmer Tripp so all I really know for sure is that it’s a Kubota with a bucket on the front. Oh, and he paid the $250 extra for the canopy, so maybe we won’t get sunburnt. We’ll see about that.

I’m hoping to have another conversation with my fencing guy this week as we try to finalize our plan for the small nursery paddock. I’d like to get some goats out there ASAP, along with the chickens. I figure the goats will keep the grass low and the hennies will be enclosed enough that they won’t need to roost on my front porch or in the barn or anything. {If you have any do’s or don’ts about that, please don’t hesitate to share!} The pole barn to which the nursery paddock is attached needs a lot of TLC, so I’m hoping to get in there in the next few weeks to finish cleaning it out and to make some safe and secure livestock stalls. {How’s that for alliteration, Mrs. B??} Here’s a video I took last week after an hour or so of cleaning one of the stalls. Lots of wood to chop before the cool weather sets in…

Sheep

Among the other crazy things I hope to do on our little farm, sheep are up there in the Top 5. Of course we’ll have a garden, and our laying hens, and Ladies Homestead Gatherings, but what our homestead really needs is livestock. And I think our first one will be sheep.

Sheep are beautiful. Sheep scream “FARM!” And sheep make WOOL and since I’m a knitter, it only seems logical that I would have sheep, right? No, I don’t have a spinning wheel, nor have I ever sheared a sheep or carded a fleece, but I am 100% confident that I could and so, I am determined.

Where to start?

One of the cornerstones of our farming philosophy is to choose animals that are considered “heritage” breeds; those bred by farmers before the drastic mono-culturization of our current food and fiber system. So the first thing I did was check the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy for their list of endangered breeds. The ALBC’s Mission is to :

{Ensure} the future of agriculture through the genetic conservation and promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry.

Under sheep, they have the following breeds listed as Critical:
Florida Cracker
Gulf Coast or Gulf Coast Native 
Hog Island
Leicester Longwool
Romeldale/CVM
Santa Cruz

And the following listed as Threatened:
Black Welsh Mountain
Clun Forest
Cotswold
Dorset Horn
Jacob – American
Karakul – American
Navajo-Churro
St. Croix

Romeldale/CVM Sheep Mama and twins

Romeldale/CVM Mama & Twins

I read through the descriptions of the various breeds, focusing mainly on those on the Critical list. The folks at Colonial Williamsburg maintain a breeding flock of Leicester Longwool and the Hog Island is native to a small island off the coast of Virginia, so those two were considered finalists. But the winner, at this point in time, is the Romeldale/CVM. I am attracted to this breed because the animals come in a variety of colors, because the dams are said to be good mothers, and because “the breed’s fleece quality and performance characteristics…make them useful for many production systems and valuable to handspinners and other fiber artists.”

Ok, so I chose my starting breed. Now I have so many questions!

  • Will I have success selling the fleece?
  • Should I consider selling the lambs for meat?
  • How many animals should I start with?
  • What kind of fencing will I need?
  • Should I keep a ram?
  • What about Livestock Guardian Dogs {aka, LGDs}?

I have really enjoyed reading Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep which is a wonderful resource for new and experienced shepherds. But, even better; I was fortunate to come across Alison Waddel of Phoenix Farm Fiber in South Carolina through www.LocalHarvest.org. Alison has a profile on that website which directs people to her farm, plus she is able to sell roving and other fiber right there as well. To supplement what she sells through Local Harvest, Alison maintains an internet store on Etsy where she sells fiber from her Romeldale/CVM sheep and mohair goats as well as upcycled / recycled products, soaps, and other neat things. So naturally, I emailed her! I introduced myself and mentioned that I was interested in keeping Romeldale/CVM sheep and did she have any advice or suggestions. She responded quickly and thoroughly and for the past week has been answering innumerable questions from me. The ones listed above barely scratch the surface, but here are the answers I’ve come up with, with Alison’s professional guidance:

  • Yes
  • Yes
  • 4-6
  • 2×4 No Climb Fencing around the perimeter to contain dogs and baby lambs + our poultry netting surrounding the chickens within the sheep’s paddock.
  • Yes
  • Alison recommends Great Pyrenees. My plan is to have one {trained female???} LGD as soon as we get our sheep.

I am so grateful for making a long-distance shepherd friend already, and look forward to my opportunity to Pay it Forward very soon. Thanks, Alison!

** Internship Update – Unfortunately, the Howell Living History Farm has decided not to take any new interns this fall, so I will not be learning to drive a horse team in Lambertville, New Jersey. BUT, recently I came across a gentleman just 30 minutes or so from me who works his horses in the fall for wagon rides and parades and he has offered to teach he what he can. I spoke with Greg today and hope to spend some time with him and his pair of Belgians very, very soon. I’ll keep you posted!