Winter Farm News

News bites:

  • The swans are nesting again on Swan Lake. There’s no telling if this is the same pair as two years ago (click here for the earlier history), or one of their offspring now paired off, or complete newcomers. They’ve wisely built their nest on much higher ground, easily visible from my kitchen window. The eggs should hatch about mid-August.
  Papa swan on the nest just after the eggs were clutched.

Papa swan on the nest just after the eggs were clutched.

  • For my Australian readers, there’s an article in the most recent Country Style that you might enjoy, and also a great vintage cardigan pattern for White Gum Wool in the June issue of Yarn magazine.
  • The Art and Science of Shepherding (Meuret and Provenza) is now available from Acres USA.  Click here for an earlier Yarn about it.
  • The new shipment of yarn is in Australia, waiting to clear customs in Melbourne. I hope to have it in my hands early next week, fingers crossed. This has lots of undyed yarn for the indies to play with, and also replenished supplies of wild orchid, sedge and ironstone.
  • And some exciting news for laceweight fans—Design Spun has agreed to spin my lambs' wool into laceweight yarn using new machinery they’ve recently purchased. I haven’t been able to use the lambs' (hogget) wool before this because it is 15.5 to 16 microns—just too fine for the standard spinning machines. Look for it in early 2015.
  • A note on the photos in the Yarns--if you want to see more detail, just click on the photo and it should open in your browser, in higher resolution.

…and a couple of farm stories…

A Near Cat-astrophe

Just for the last short while, I’ve felt confident enough to run my pack of working dogs using my electric Polaris ranger—the farm “buggy”. I’ve always been wary with the youngsters, but they’ve finally developed enough sense to run well away from the buggy. A few days ago we were trundling up the track through the lucerne, not far from the boundary fence, when Jax, the youngest, scared up a big black feral cat. She was more than a match for him in speed, and I watched in trepidation as they dashed away up the paddock.

  The dog pack ready to run. Chance, Jane, Pearl and Jax in the foreground. Blaze, Flynn and Joker in the back. Enough to intimidate any cat!

The dog pack ready to run. Chance, Jane, Pearl and Jax in the foreground. Blaze, Flynn and Joker in the back. Enough to intimidate any cat!

At the last possible moment, the cat dodged under the fence to the neighbour’s paddock. “Phew!” thought I, but my relief was short-lived, as the cat doubled back along the fence, straight toward me and the other 5 dogs, came back under the fence right at the buggy (which I’d stopped, thankfully), under the buggy, and up into the wheel well, spitting and swearing a blue streak. It all happened so fast I couldn’t even think of doing anything about it.

  A cat’s eye view of the Polaris buggy as a refuge. Because it’s electric, there’s not a lot under the bonnet, and plenty of things to climb!

A cat’s eye view of the Polaris buggy as a refuge. Because it’s electric, there’s not a lot under the bonnet, and plenty of things to climb!

So there we sat, me in the buggy, the dogs circling madly, the cat batting at the inside of the bonnet of the buggy, apparently trying to get out the top of his “tree”.   After sitting perplexed for a few moments, I finally decided the only thing I could do was get out and walk away—far away—from the buggy, with the dogs, and hope the cat would exit on his own. Thirty minutes and a full walking lap of the paddock later, I opened the bonnet carefully, half expecting an explosion of black cat, but he’d prudently left on his own. Phew!

The black and white kitty on the Wool and Fleece Shop header photo (Skye) is a feral I found out in the gorse patch as a tiny kitten 3 years ago. She and fellow housecat Oscar the British blue, have an outdoor run, but are not allowed to roam.  Feral cats are serious predators of native wildlife not adapted to feline tactics. I do have quolls, native cat-sized marsupial predators, and I hope that they might be helping to keep the feral cat population under control.

  Skye kitty and the very first dye lot of yarn.

Skye kitty and the very first dye lot of yarn.

Moving the Flock

We had the most amazingly warm winter weather the last week, as a great big high pressure cell was sitting over Tasmania. White frosts, but then sunny days with light winds—in short, a pleasure to shepherd. Last Wednesday it was time to let the sheep move to the next paddock on rotation.  In theory, I simply go and open the gate and let the sheep move in their own sweet time.

But because it was a beautiful day, and because I love watching the flock head into a fresh paddock—they are just so happy, leaping and skipping, and calling to each other as they find sweet, new growth—and because I had all the time in the world that day, I went on into the old paddock. Somewhat to my surprise, the flock was grazing in the long grass that I usually have to put them into. So the dogs and I found a dry spot to sit and have our morning apples—close enough to watch the sheep, but far away enough not to bother them.

  The sheep in the long grass as the dogs and I were having our morning tea.

The sheep in the long grass as the dogs and I were having our morning tea.

I took out my good binoculars and looked to see if I could find Old Leader—pretty sure I could see her at the end of the mob closest to the gate into the next paddock. After our morning “tea” the dogs and I sauntered off to convince the flock to head in the direction of the gate. It was a slow, gentle walk, and over the next half hour every one of my pets came up for a visit with me. Vicky Victoria has a boyfriend, a darling little wether lamb—ear tag #73, who has taken to coming with her when she comes to see me. He won’t let me touch him yet, but she has clearly told him that I’m ok. I guess he’ll have to be called Albert.

Not far from the gate, I came across a lamb with his head stuck through the fence—well and truly caught, trying to eat something that looked better on the other side. It took a serious wrestle to get him free. He was none the worse for it, but had I not made the choice to go into the paddock, and had the mob not stayed near him, I might well have not found him until it was too late.

  Heading up the hill to the gate, after the lamb rescue. It does look like a thousand sheep when they are in a mob, doesn’t it?

Heading up the hill to the gate, after the lamb rescue. It does look like a thousand sheep when they are in a mob, doesn’t it?

Old Leader wasn’t particularly drawn to the gate, perhaps because it’s right next to the other set of yards, so in the end, Clara (who is now the size of many of the adult sheep) and I walked through and the mob followed, skipping and jumping and calling to each other, “Ethyl, come try this!” as they spread out into the new, fresh forage. My pets took off as well, and at the back of the mob I saw the lamb I’d pulled out of the fence, with his dusty flank—happily following the rest.

  Coming through the gate onto fresh feed. Clara is standing next to me (not in the photo) at the corner of the yards. She didn’t stay long–the call of the fresh paddock and the rest of the flock was too strong.

Coming through the gate onto fresh feed. Clara is standing next to me (not in the photo) at the corner of the yards. She didn’t stay long–the call of the fresh paddock and the rest of the flock was too strong.

  About 30 seconds later…they’ve shown me their heels and are blissfully exploring the new forage.

About 30 seconds later…they’ve shown me their heels and are blissfully exploring the new forage.

The dogs and I walked back down the hill in time for lunch, me with tired feet and all of us well-pleased with our work. We’d seen chats (small native birds with the cutest black-framed white faces and delightful chirpy call) up in the paddock with the sheep, and flame robins leading us down the fence-line on the way home, and mama swan hanging out at Willow Tree Café (while papa sits on the nest during the day) as we walked past. Nothing earth-shaking, but a morning filled with pleasure.

  This is the best shot I’ve ever managed to get of a flame robin. They seem to know exactly how far maximum zoom distance is! What a bright bit of colour in the winter landscape.

This is the best shot I’ve ever managed to get of a flame robin. They seem to know exactly how far maximum zoom distance is! What a bright bit of colour in the winter landscape.

  Mama swan at her ease. She’s on the nest at night, with swap-overs at dusk and dawn. Yesterday I saw her flying to Willow Tree Cafe just as the sun was coming up.

Mama swan at her ease. She’s on the nest at night, with swap-overs at dusk and dawn. Yesterday I saw her flying to Willow Tree Cafe just as the sun was coming up.