Friday, July 28, 2017

Meet Rose and Yeti

Having a small sheep flock is supposed to be simple. They can graze around the house to keep things mowed and otherwise pretty much take care of themselves. Then it seemed like a nice safe barn and pen would be a good idea in addition to a well-fenced pasture. When I discovered coyote and bobcat tracks in the snow of their pasture last winter I realized we needed another layer of protection (so much for simple). 

We read up on all the options from llamas and donkeys to dogs but in the end realized that only livestock guardian dogs could handle our bigger predators - lions and bears. 

The livestock guardian breeds were developed and used for thousands of years throughout the lands from the western Iberian Peninsula and Pyrenees mountains, into western Europe, Turkey and central Asia, all the way to the Himalayas. Each area developed a breed that was well suited to the locale and the predators found there. 

Our research into livestock guardian dogs (LGD) identified several breeds that would be well suited to our situation and needs and in the end we decided on a Maremma and Karakachan team. 

The Maremma Sheepdog traces its heritage back to the dogs of shepherds in central Italy who protected the flocks from wolves and bears. They are independent thinkers who bond very closely to their flock so they tend to stay close to home and are dominant yet accepting of non-threatening people. They were first imported to the U.S. in the 1970s for the first extensive studies on the use and effectiveness of LGDs. Maremmas proved to be one of the most successful breeds in those studies.

The Karakachan Dog of Bulgaria was developed by an ancient group of nomadic people who traveled over the region with their herds of sheep and horses. This traditional way of life continued into the early twentieth century. The breed is not well know in the U.S. as importation did not occur until the mid-2000s. They are one of the smaller breeds of LGDs but their fearlessness is legendary. Cat Urbigkit in her book, Brave and Loyal, calls the Karakachan the "bear brawlers of the Balkans" and in Bulgaria those are brown bears! 

We were very fortunate to find a very knowledgeable breeder in Iowa with a litter of each and in early March our pups, at three months of age, arrived by livestock transport. Rose is a female Karakachan and Yeti is a male Maremma.

Rose, Yeti and Cody (who went on to a farm north of Denver).
Both pups were born in a barn in the dead of winter surrounded by sheep and goats. The perfect start for future LGDs. It can take up to two years for LGDs to be fully mature and capable of 24/7 protection of the flock especially against our bigger predators. In the meantime our pups spend a good part of their day with our small flock but everyone is locked up in safe surroundings for the night.

So meet Rose and Yeti, two adorable goofballs who have enriched our lives so much!

Ian (black pile at the bottom of the tree) with Yeti and Rose
From Fleur Creek Farm

Sunday, July 23, 2017

From Fleece to Yarn

It's hard to get on a professional sheep shearer's schedule when you actually need them if you only have four sheep so this was our first year to try shearing the sheep ourselves. You can read everything out there and watch a bunch of videos on YouTube but at some point you just have to go for it. 

We started with Hershey, our smallest Shetland, and over the course of a week worked through the flock. The professionals can shear a sheep in 4 - 5 minutes. It took us 45 minutes each for the first three. Ian, the last one, was a real pill and we had to do a section at a time over a three day period. He looked pretty ridiculous during this adventure. 
Etta, Mac, Ian and Hershey minus their winter coats
The next step is to skirt each fleece (remove the nasty parts) and then bag them up. Then it's off to the wool mill to be turned into yarn.

Etta, Mac, Ian with Hershey in the front
Etta and Ian each had 2.9 pounds while Mac had 1.85 pounds and Hershey had 1.5 pounds which all together will probably yield around 4.5 pounds of yarn or 5000 yards. Over next winter I'll turn that yarn into a variety of projects on my simple loom. I can hardly wait!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Protecting the Harvest

I've finally given up trying to write an all encompassing blog of everything that is going on and decided to break it down into small stories. I just might be able to keep up with this format - maybe...

Several days ago, while moving the irrigation water around, Don discovered that the cherries were starting to ripen and it wouldn't be long before the birds noticed it too. So one of today's tasks was to put up the tree nets. This is no simple task since the trees are 8 to 15 feet tall. Several years ago we devised a primitive method of lifting the 30 x 30 foot nets up in the air and over the trees using 10 foot pieces of conduit. With one of us on each side of the tree this almost works. Of course the nets get tangled on everything possible but the thought of a glass of wine later this afternoon (and cherry desserts this winter) keeps me from hurling the conduit like a javelin. 

Mission accomplished and on to the next task. 

From Fleur Creek Farm