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Where wool begins: Keeping sheep safe

Where wool begins: Keeping sheep safe

In my last post, I introduced you to how we raise sheep (and wool!) a little differently than most in Canada — our sheep live outside year-round and graze solar installations and cover crops as their day-job.

In that post, our livestock guardian dogs made an appearance and garnered plenty of attention, as they should. We couldn’t graze sheep like we do without our dogs!

Where we farm, coyotes are a major threat to sheep. Our sheep are also vulnerable to attacks by ravens and even bears, though it has been years since that has happened here. Did I mention we are in Ottawa city limits? We are! But yes, there are black bears, sometimes wolves, and plenty of coyotes to worry about.

There are a few options for guardian animals, including dogs, llamas, and donkeys. We’ve had the greatest success with dogs — it takes a predator to smell, spot, and deter a predator. And that is our goal: unless a coyote or group of coyotes is preying on our sheep, we leave them alone. We would rather not hunt or trap the coyotes, but it does happen from time to time that a troublesome animal or family moves in and even the dogs can’t keep them back.

We’re always asked what breeds of dogs we use. Most of our dogs are a mix of breeds — there are a surprising number of guardian dog breeds, all of which have been developed over hundreds of years alongside sheep flocks. Most of our dogs are Maremma (an Italian breed), with some Great Pyrenees, Akbash, and Karakachan in the mix.

A child and adorable puppies
Charlie and some puppies, March 2022

Our dogs are sometimes born here, or at other sheep farmer’s set ups, but it’s so important that they be from working parents and are born and raised with the charges they will protect. A pup needs to bond with sheep from the beginning so that they treat them as their own. The instincts these dogs have been selected for are truly amazing, but they still require training and support to eventually make it as a livestock guardian. Not all of them do.

We run about one adult dog per 200 ewes, but prefer that the dogs work in pairs. The final number (up to three or four) all depends on the coyote pressure, the terrain, fences, and whether we are lambing or not. There are always young dogs coming on and older dogs slowing down. It’s a real challenge to find the balance of new and experienced.

A livestock guardian dog watches as a ewe has her lamb
A livestock guardian dog watches as a ewe has her lamb. The paint on the ewe is to identify with breeding group she is in. It mostly washes off the wool, I promise.

We’ve just started lambing this week (see above) and two of our newest dogs are doing an amazing job keeping watch over the newest lambs. These dogs not only keep the ewes and lambs safe they also clean up the lambing areas (gross!) which serves a real purpose — less scent for predators to pick up on or come in to investigate. The relationship between these dogs and their flocks is incredible.

Even with many good dogs, losses still happen. This past fall and winter were some of the hardest for coyote kills in close to 10 years. They even took down a mature ram, which is rare. We did have a few trapped, and that seemed to help, but our goal is to add more dogs to keep the pressure down.

A livestock guardian dog looks over his sheep after being sheared
T-Dawg, a livestock guardian dog, looks after sheep

Until next time, enjoy the sunshine and if you’d like to see more of our solar grazing and lambing adventures check us out on Instagram at @Shady_Creek_Lamb!

Future felt

Future felt

So what would future felt be? Can you guess?

 

Here is a clue

 

Did that help?

 

how about this

 

I bet you know now.

 

 

 

Meet Pete also known as Handsome Pete. He is our new Blue Faced Leicester Ram.

 

He arrived on Wednesday. He is settling in well. he can see the sheep when they come in and he can smell them are girls. He is handsome and calm. He likes his back scratched. He is not sure about Ava. She is a dog after all but I am sure the others will let him know that although she is black and white, she is no border collie.

This very handsome and alert shot is also looking at Ava who is paying no attention at all.

 

 

We Need a New Door Stop

We Need a New Door Stop

Recently we have acquired a new bookcase for our living room.  It was actually made to fit in the space between the front wall and the door of the room.  However it has a sort of lip around the top, the corner of which was banged by the glass of the open door if we were not careful.

2 Views of the book case against the glass (with some of my menagerie in view on the book case)

Obviously we needed something to stop the door before it fully opened. After some thought I decided that it needed to be tall (so that we didn’t have to bend down too far to move it – the floor gets further away the older you get), but it needed to be thin too otherwise the door wouldn’t open far enough to let one of us safely into the room, especially with drinks in hand.

I wanted it to go with the colour of the carpet and I knew that I had somewhere in my stash a blue wool sweater that I had felted (on purpose) by putting it through the washing machine. I finally rooted it out and decided that I would use one of the sleeves, which had a pattern knitted into it.

The Other Sleeve – what’s left of it – the pattern looks a bit hazy but hang in there, you’ll see it later.

Initially I thought that I would make a tall thin pyramid shape to fit in the gap between the side of the book case and the door. I sewed up the cuff of the sleeve and, to make sure it didn’t keep falling over, I begged a piece of flat lead sheet from my husband which I fitted into the bottom of the stuffed sleeve, and then sewed up what had been the shoulder to make the base. 

Well it was ok, but I thought it needed a bit more interest and decided to turn the door stop into a cat.

Out came the felting needles and my scoured merino, which I use as core fibres. Then for the “top coat” I sorted through the blues in my stash – normally jealously guarded because I don’t have a lot now as I use them for sky in my pictures – and found some which almost matched the main blue of the sleeve. Obviously he wasn’t going to be a realistic cat so I tried to “cartoonise” his features, and rather than give him needle felted eyes as I might normally do I fished out some bright orange glass eyes from another stash which would go well with his dark blue face. I used some of the blue to make a wet felt sheet, out of which I cut his ears.

Having made his head, I attached it to the tall thin pyramid. It’s sewn as well as needled on, but even so I was concerned that if he was picked up by his head it might come off. I made a piece of blue cord and attached that as a loop behind his head so that he might be moved safely. And here we have him.

Smiley Door Cat

Not long after this, we acquired a new pinky-grey bathroom carpet and also new pink and grey towels to replace very tired old red ones. Until then we had been using the bathroom scales as a door stop – that door will slam very hard if the wind gets up when the window is open. So now I decided that we would need another door cat.

When we got the new carpet we did not change the basic colour scheme as we didn’t want the hassle of changing the suite (vintage Pampas) or the tiles. The colour scheme is essentially derived from the tiles, which are pink and grey with some crimson detailing. Originally we had a red-ish carpet and red and dark grey towels, but when I bought those towels I could not get a bath mat to match, so I made one by stitching two red hand towels back to back.

Bathroom Tile

As the new carpet shed fibres quite a lot to begin with I thought of making the new door cat out of that fibre, but after a little more thought I realised that that would not be a good idea. We would keep falling over a camouflaged cat in the gloom of a late night visit!

So I thought I might find another felted sleeve, but couldn’t come up with something the right colour. Then, because we still had touches of red in the room, I decided that I would deconstruct the old red bath mat and use one of the pieces for the cat’s body. I had already given away the rest of the old towels to my friend for her dogs.

I felt that a “loaf cat” pose would be best, less likely to tip over if the wind caught the door, but I’d need too much lead sheet to make it a suitable weight. So I visited the garden and found a triangular(ish) shaped piece of rock, washed it and wrapped it in a couple of layers of non-woven cotton towels, secured with masking (painter’s) tape. I made myself a paper pattern of the body and cut out two body sides and a gusset for the base and chest. I cut out the pattern pieces from the towel and stitched it all up (first inserting the wrapped rock and stuffing it with polyester stuffing.

I had seen a cartoon of a smiling cat, which had enormous ears, which looked really cheeky. I thought I’d have a go at making one like that. I started with the core fibre again and got the head substantially how I’d like it and then thought about fibres for the coating.

Head ready to be covered in “Top Coat” (for some reason enlarged umpteen sizes)

I did not have exactly the right red, so had to blend a couple of pieces of pre-dyed merino tops which seemed to work ok. I did the same to make a pinky-grey blend for the chest, face and inside of the ears. I had decided that I would make the cat’s chest a similar colour to the carpet which meant that I had to make a wet felted sheet of the pinky-grey batt to cover the original red towelling. I cut the felt into the shape of the chest gusset, leaving enough for a pair of large ears.

I needled some of the red onto the back of the ears, and this resulted in a darker pink on the inside where the needles had pushed fibres right through, which was actually a benefit I think. I needled the blended red on to the back of the cat’s head and neck, and the pinky-grey onto the face, attached the ears and gave him a darker pink nose. I “shadowed” the smile and blinking eyes and I also gave him some laughter lines.

Nearly finished head, along with my felting cushion and a trapped needle holder

Then I stitched the head onto the neck, and the chest piece over his front, catching in the head at the neck.  I covered the join with more needled fibres and, using another piece of towel, attached a handle to the back of his neck so that he could be moved without his head coming off.

Loving Blinks from the new Door Ward

My husband has already named him Yoda.  We each confessed the other day that we both chat to him (in fact I pick him up and cuddle him too – he just fits into one arm)

What about the poor tatty sheep at the beginning of this post? Well, many years ago now, when I was a fairly new needle felter, I decided that I’d like to make myself a door stop for my bedroom door. I had acquired from our Guild a Jacob fleece, which, as it turned out, was ideal for needle felting. It certainly wasn’t a lot of good for wet felting – it wouldn’t, whatever I did to it. I suppose I must have had an old ram’s coarse and kempy fleece palmed off on me, when I was too naïve to know what I was getting – no wonder it was cheap!

Anyway, I got a body shaped pebble out of the garden, and washed it, wrapped it in some of the un- wetfelted fleece and started in with a No.36 felting needle (I only had 36 triangle and 38 star needles in those days- oh and a No.19 which was so thick it wouldn’t really go through anything I had with any ease). I bust quite a few needles before the pebble was covered. I added a neck to one end and then decided that my sheep would need eyes and a pair of horns. At that time I did not know that Jacob sheep often have 4 horns and wear them as if they had put them on in a hurry in the morning whilst still half asleep!

I made the horns and eyeballs using pipe cleaners and white Fimo polymer clay, baked and painted with acrylic paints. At that stage in my career I had not thought of using PVA glue on needled fleece to make horns. I needled a head shape around the horns and eyes, and then attached it to the neck. It did not occur to me to strengthen the neck with the ends of the pipe cleaners, I had cut these short and just put the horns on either end, and did the same with the eyes.

Well it all worked and for years he sat by my door, getting moved when necessary with my foot.  Now he’s a sad old thing, but being sentimental I can’t bear to get rid of him, even though he’s lost a horn and is definitely the worse for wear.  Perhaps I’ll give him a “makeover” sometime.

Poor Old Jacob, grown old and infirm in service

 

 

Back to some winter sheep

Back to some winter sheep

I have been felting and stitching a little picture again. And of course, my favourite sheep will make an appearance.

I did a sketch of the idea I wanted, I don’t think I have the patience for proper drawing. I do a quick general idea. I used a thick piece of “almost felt” and made the blue sky and snow base, wet felting them together. Next, I used Blue Faced Lester lock to make some evergreen trees.

 

I added some paths for the sheep. Sheep like to walk the same path other and over, one after the other, even in a green pasture. Once they are where they generally want to go, they wander off. I have no idea why they like to stand out in a snow covered field, but they do.

I added all my trees and tucked the edges around to make it neater. I added some blobs for the sheep so when I add the stitching they will stand out a little more. I also lightened up the paths a bit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used french knots to make the woolly coats and some embroidery for the heads and legs.

 

I fiddled with trees a bit and added trails into where the sheep are standing. I tried t add some shadow under the trees but it didn’t look right so I pulled it off. The trees still need some snow. I usually do that last, I am not sure why.

My problem is the bottom right. It seems very bare. I don’t know if I want another sheep or something else. I thought of some little birds on the snow but think as this is a small picture (about 5″x6″, 12×15 cm) they might end up looking like sheep droppings. I don’t want a fence. Does anyone have any ideas? It may end up being another sheep.

 

 

Lambs

Lambs

This is a short post today.  There is not much time for felting at the moment. We have started lambing here on the farm. We are a little early. Seems we missed a ram lamb and he was a very active little  fellow. Naturally with the weather being cold and wet we have some in the house.

Here is a brand new lamb, still all wet. Mom and baby were moved to a pen of ther own shortly after I took the picture.

These are the house lambs They are on bottles. This is ther first top in the living room. They have now moved to a Big pen in the basement.

And this is one that is getting warm sitting on my knee as I type this for you to read.

I am not sure how I am supposed to get ready to teach  Techniques for Intermediate Felters on Saturday. No rest for the weary as they say.

Well thats it from me , I have lambs to feed.

 

 

 

 

A felt Picture

A felt Picture

While making little bags I also made a small picture. i suppose it would count for the first  quarter challenge.  happy-new-year-prepare-to-be-challenged/ i hope to do somthing a little more challenging before the quarter is over.  I like little pasture scenes. I started with a piece of black prefelt and then laid the blue sky and pasture. I thought I took more pictures but it seems I didn’t.

This what the back looks like. I wrapped the coloured fibers around the prefelt . I use black prefelt because it will intensify the colours. If I used white it would take the colours towards pastel.

This is the front side felted.  I made the contours of the meadow by using a multicoloured roving I had. I think it lets you give the meadow some texture and shape without painstakingly adding tiny bits of colour. I added some clouds to the sky and some flowers to the meadow with some soft silk and little white blobs of sheep as place markers for the next part.

I added the sheep using some embroidery floss and french knots.

Then added the heads and ears. I used a grey for the sheep that are farther away. I think it worked.

At this point it could have been done but I needed something else. Your eye goes to the middle and it is empty. I discussed it over on the Felting and Fiber Studio Forum and I decided some trees were needed. I only know how to do one kind of tree that looks half decent so ever greens were next. I did them in a medium green and then when back with fewer strands and added some darker stitches to give them more depth.

Here it is finished. I had to trim the top off so it would fit in the frame. I always seem to make to much sky anyway so that worked out well enough.

I looks quite nice in the frame. The frame seems to pop it out. I didn’t realise how many scratches it had until I took a picture. I will have to paint it. It is not a great picture, ther was so much reflection. this was the best compromise between the light reflecting or having a clear shot of me in the glass.

I need to learn to embroider more then far away evergreens and sheep. A little cabin or a nice oak tree would have been a nice  addition to the picture. I am thinking of buying Moy MacKays book. Do you have a favourite art felt  or how to hand stitch  pictures or art books?

 

Not Much Done but a Cute Surprise

Not Much Done but a Cute Surprise

As the title says I really haven’t done much with fiber this last week. I did start my Free motion embroidery class this week but haven’t had much time to do more than watch the videos read the PDF and fight with the tension on my machine. I have it sorted now and I hope I can do some practising this weekend. Pictures of messed up tension are not very exiting so I wasn’t sure what I would tell you about and then we had a surprise late yesterday, on the coldest day in March. -23c I took these pictures at about 10:00 last night after chasing the 2 calves back in because you know there is not better time to “fall” out of the barnyard but late at night when its freezing out.

This is mom wanting to know what I was doing.

and then letting lamb have a drink. I like this one she looks like she is smiling.

And this is the best shot I got of the two of them. Mom had just stomped at me as she was fed up with me trying to get a decent shot of both of them.  Just as well my iPhone shut down right after that as it was too cold.  My son put a heat lamp in so lamb wouldn’t get to cold. The temperature is on the rise again to day and we will go up to +2c today. This is the first lamb of the season. this is early and not on the schedule. There shouldn’t be any until late April early May. Best laid plans as they say.

Art Project

Art Project

This year is Canada’s 150th birthday. The guild I belong to is having an art show in celebration. We are making 150 12×12 canvases. Some are covering them in weaving or yarn or fiber pictures. I naturally am doing some felt pieces. I told you about one before.

knots-cut-short

The second one is sheep.

I started with 2 layers or merino prefelt. I put a piece of cotton gauze in between for strength.

green-layers

I then used head cut outs to decide on the positions of the sheep.

layout-spacing

Then I added all the curls. The white and multi coloured sheep are Blue Faced Leicester. One of the others is Gotland, one is Wensleydale and the other I can’t remember. I added the legs and ears.

green-sheep-wet

Once it was felted the legs and heads disappeared a lot so I had to fix  them with needle felting.  I then mounted it on a 12×12 canvas using velcro. I forgot to take a picture of them finished  with faded heads and legs. And then I forgot to take a picture of it finished because it had to go to get its picture taken. Fortunately Judy sent me one of the pictures she took so I can show it to you.

annsheepsmall

Judy sent me to close ups too

annwhitesheep-1 sheep1close-1

Now all I have to write up the info for the show and  decide on a price to put on it.

If you Are Canadian are you doing anything fibery to celebrate this special year? If you are not Canadian what did you do to celebrate a big event in your country or town?

 

 

 

 

Naturals and Needlefelting

Naturals and Needlefelting

I mentioned that we have tried out lots of different fibres at the well being centre lately, and the other week we tried out lots of different wool breeds too. We’ve used naturals before, but mostly for pods/vessels and lots together for hangings etc, but we made samples to get a better idea of what we could use each type for. Since I have more experience, I thought I’d use Herdwick and Lincoln tops. I used some flax and help tops with the Herdwick sample:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the Lincoln I used Soy tops and Black viscose tops:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a close up of the Soy:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd a close up of the Viscose:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd this is what the back looked like:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome of the others tried Texel, and had a hard time getting it felted. After the Botany laps unfeltable tops I had, I was a bit concerned. I’ve taken some wools from ‘Goody Bags’ and Botany lap waste in before now, so worried there might have been other unfeltables that got mixed up. My sample turned out alright though. I used some Viscose and Bamboo staple fibre on it:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt did get me wondering how much we automatically alter our techniques when using different wool breeds or mixes etc. I always think I felt the same no matter what I use or make, but maybe there’s a slight difference in pressure, or maybe it’s a matter of just felting longer, I honestly don’t know, but I’m going to be more conscious of what I do from now on!
We thought we’d have a go at needle felting before the holidays, so I made a little sample while testing out some fibres:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI didn’t get a photo of anyone else’s, and I don’t often do ‘figurative’ needle felting, it’s usually very abstract, which is why my sheep needs a bit more work! The body is alright though, I used some locks Zara sent me 🙂

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd that light green bit is a bush, not a weird tail!

Welcome to the Family

Welcome to the Family

I had a big surprise last week when my youngest sister Carol sent me pictures of the newest members of her family — three ewes and four lambs!

It was an even bigger surprise to her that I use wool for felting.  In her defense, she lives in central Wisconsin and has a farm and she, her husband and son run a real estate business.  They are a little busy themselves.

It should have been no shock since she’s been an animal lover since she was a toddler.  She’s managed a dairy farm, a pig farm and has had horses and cows of her own. Carol also has five Border Collies and felt they needed more exercise.  Sheep would be great for them to herd. When she saw the sheep it was love at first site.

None of the sheep are purebreds. She thinks they are Corriedale/Dorset mixes. The ewes were pregnant when she brought them home.  Since then the oldest Mom, Secret 7,  had twin boys.  Carol’s granddaughter Madison named them Salt and Pepper.

 

Jpeg

Jpeg

The black Mom, Dusty, had a dark black boy named Little Will.

Jpeg

The youngest Mom, Amira,  had a teeny little brown lamb with tan on her face Madison named Rosie.  She was very weak and they had to milk Amira and bottle feed Rosie because she couldn’t get up and walk. But an hour later she was on her feet.  They will let Rosie and Amira out of the lambing pen as long as Rosie is doing well.  She is very tiny.

Rosie

The sheep have only been introduced to the two older Border Collies, Belle who is 2 and a half and Misty who is 1 and a half.  They just visit and fuss over the baby lambs.  Misty thinks all the babies belong to her.  She loves them.

The three pups are only 10 months old and will get introduced to the lambs when the lambs are at least half grown.  They want the sheep to feel safe and comfortable in their own space.  They  are going to build a special round pen for that so it will be easier to control both the dogs and sheep.

Carol is already planning on buying a Corriedale ram this fall. So, the excitement will continue.

I wish we weren’t so far apart, but I’ve been promised fleece next year. so, I’m sure a trip is in order.  Another new adventure!  In the mean time, I’m enjoying the pictures and updates.

Thanks to my nephew Bill and his daughter Madison for the pictures and to Carol for sharing this exciting experience with us.

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