It looks as if Spring may have finally arrived in Northern Ohio. At least we hope so. If it snows again, we're going to have some mighty cold, naked sheep and goats.
Yesterday, they had their Spring hair cuts. Within minutes, they went from this:
The goats don't seem to mind their twice-a-year trip to the shearing stand.
It's an opportunity to have their hot fleece taken care of and to eat a bowl of goat food at the same time - the goat version of multi-tasking. Their fleece grows fast and they will have a fall hair cut in October, too.
And while the goats are by no means small, they are certainly much more curious and less timid than the sheep. They had no problem waltzing across the pastures and fields to the shearing stand. And they behaved themselves while there.
The sheep, on the other hand, are not willing nor or they well behaved.
They are big boys and they have attitude. With a capital A. They had to be pressed up against the barn for their haircuts. It's a good thing they are only shorn once a year. The big-time wrestling match can wear you out!
But all the sheep wrangling, arm wrenching and falls in the mud were worth it when you see their beautiful fleece.
Soft, spongy and full of crimp, the sheep fleeces will be turned into roving for hand spinners.
The goat fleeces will be made into yarn.
We've started shearing the alpacas, but they are going to take a lot longer simply because there are so many more of them.
But we are not complaining. Shearing means Spring. And after this Winter, anything that means Spring is welcomed with open arms.
Easter is synonymous with fresh, beautiful eggs.
Personally, I think Easter should be synonymous with chocolate. But then again, I think any and all holidays should be associated with chocolate.
Right around Easter is when our chickens start laying again. Normally, chickens lay an egg every day-and-a-half. However, in the Fall and Winter, when the days are shorter and there is less light, they slow way down and egg production falls off.
But the girls are back in production mode and laying like crazy.
This is the time of year we get the most questions about eggs. Number one question: Are brown eggs better for you than white eggs. The answer is no.
The color of the shell is not an indicator of nutrition. Different breeds of chickens lay different color eggs. Most commercial egg laying facilities use a breed of chicken that lays a white egg because that breed is considered a "heavy layer" - meaning they have been bred to crank out eggs at a higher rate than other breeds.
So don't pay extra in the grocery store for brown eggs if you are buying them thinking they hold more nutrition. They don't. They are just a different breed of chicken raised in the same way as the white egg-laying chickens.
We raise a variety of heritage breed chickens here at the farm. Heritage breed chickens are older breeds that are accustomed to free ranging outdoors and living a more natural life than chickens that have been bred strictly for high volume egg production. Our birds give us eggs in all sorts of colors, from blue, green, dark brown, brown, pinkish to white.
Our chickens are free ranging, meaning we open the hen house door in the morning and they spend their days in the fields and gardens eating all sorts of things that chickens are supposed to eat, including bugs, worms and fresh vegetables. Each day, they get plenty of fresh air and green, green grass under their little chicken feet. In return, they give us plenty of flavorful eggs.
We believe that our eggs have a higher nutritional value than commercial eggs because of the chicken's diet. They are not eating strictly grain like a commercial chicken would. We know this varied diet makes their eggs taste so much better!
Once you've eaten a farm egg, you may never buy a supermarket egg again. Eggs from the supermarket may have been sitting there for weeks, losing nutrients, color and taste every day. Farm eggs are fresh daily. (For more information about what the terms free range, organic and humane mean, check out our homepage.)
Our eggs cook up light and fluffy. The yolks are a deep, rich orange color and the whole egg has actual flavor, not like it's rubbery counterpart in the supermarket. Your omelets, cookies and pies will take on a whole new taste. People will start calling you the next Martha Stewart. All because of a simple egg.
We sell our eggs at the farm for $3.50 dozen. Feel free to stop by to purchase eggs, but be warned - we do sell out quickly.
If you'd like to dye eggs for Easter without using chemical dyes, check out the FarmMade blog.
A sure sign of Spring at the farm isn't the trees in bloom or the warming temperatures. No, it's the packed parking lot and lots of school kids, parents and teachers streaming out of cars or buses to visit the alpacas.
And while the alpacas are used to it, the first tour group of the year leaves them slightly stunned. They need some time to adjust to the hustle and bustle of school kids on the farm.
Recently, a preschool group came for a visit to meet the alpacas,
say hello to a chicken,
and feed a goat.
We talked about honey bees and tasted honey. We talked about fiber and how it gets off the animal and made into yarn. We talked about the different color of eggs our chickens lay.
But mostly we visited with the alpacas. All the kids and most of the adults liked it.
If you would like to schedule a tour for your school, scout, church or other type of group, give Marilyn a call at 440-821-4104. We'd like at least two weeks notice, but can work with a shorter time frame if necessary.
Tours last about an hour and you are welcome to use our picnic tables if you would like to bring lunch. Remember, this is a working farm. Play clothes and boots are a must!
It's officially Spring. I can tell because it's snowing again and the ground is one big puddle of mud.
But we are hopeful that one day soon we will have bright blue skies and can work outside in something other than a full, head-to-toe snowsuit.
The chickens know its Spring. They are out hunting for bugs and other delectables.
The alpacas are a little skeptical. Maybe I should say delicate. They don't want to get their feet dirty.
The humans don't have a choice.
Nothing bothers the sheep. Spring. Summer. Winter. Fall. Doesn't matter to them. They will eat hay in the rain, sleet or snow.
The goats, while not at all fussy about what they eat, prefer to dine indoors on a rainy/snowy day.
So welcome Spring. We'd rather you'd shown your prettier side today, but we'll take what we can get - just be sure to throw in a few of those glorious, sunny, hopeful days every now and then.
You get a lot of strange questions and comments from people when you tell them you make laundry soap. And to answer two of the most common questions, no, I don't want to be Laura Ingalls and live on the prairie (well maybe just a little bit) and yes, I do know that I can buy laundry soap in the store already made.
But it's not as good as ours. And that is a 100 percent unbiased opinion.
We make our soap with old fashioned ingredients that actually do the job of cleaning your clothes. They don't need to be "new and improved." They worked the first time around and are still working today.
Don't let its light, natural lavender essential oil scent fool you into thinking it's a lightweight in the cleaning department. This is a workhorse detergent, tough enough for all the dirt the farm can throw at us yet gentle enough for baby clothes. On really tough, extra muddy Spring laundry, I may throw in two scoops.
I love this soap so much I frequently give it as a gift. (And if you receive it from me it's not a hint that your clothes aren't clean!)
We sell it in one quart Mason jars with either a wooden scoop or a hand stamped, sea glass embellished spoon. Soon there will be a refill package, too.
A little goes a long way. One quart jar will do about 75 loads of laundry.
Stop by the farm store to pick some up or you can order it through our Etsy site.
We raise a lot of beautiful yarn here on the farm. Yarn in all sorts of natural colors. Anything from black and grey to brown to white.
Many a gorgeous shawl, hat, scarf or sweater has been made from this yarn, in the color it was on the animal, just as nature made it.
But every now and then, you need a little color in your life. Especially in mid-March when the outdoor landscape has looked like this for months.
So it's time to dye some of that white yarn something bright. And cheerful. And not the colors of Winter.
All my dye books say to look to nature for inspiration. That she provides the ideal color combinations, naturally.
And they are right. The ferns on that forest floor would look stunning translated into yarn. As would the colors of this sunset.
So I took little stroll to the lake. I figured Lake Erie would be a good source of natural colors that I could translate into yarn colors.
I was wrong.
As yet another snowstorm hit us today, the only color the lake is giving up is brown and white. I have brown and white. I want color, color, color.
I have no choice but to break all the rules. I am going to a non-natural source for inspiration. I am heading straight to my closet. I can only hope that the color planners for these clothing manufacturers used nature as their original source because I am copying what I see.
This colors in this scarf scream Spring to me.
Lime green, turquoise, purple - I would never have put those colors together, but they work.
Same with this blouse. Bright orange and pale blue.
Who doesn't want a little bright orange and pale blue in their life on a snowy day.
I've got the dye formulation color charts at the ready.
I've got the snowy white yarn soaking. Tomorrow is the day for full color. Tomorrow the browns and whites of Winter will end.
Tomorrow we will have Spring colors.
I long for the good old days. You remember them - those days last week. Those days when it was a balmy 20 degrees. I want them back.
Today it has already warmed up to -6. And we're heading for a high of -2. Yippee.
It's an "I can't put my arms down" kind of day: two pairs of socks, two layers of long underwear, snowpants, Carhartts, alpaca scarf, wool hat, mittens, heat packs in the mittens, and stunning, figure-flattering bulky turtleneck sweaters.
But at least the sun is shining. And Spring is around the corner.
Well, maybe it's around the corner and down the block a bit, but it will get here.
In the meantime, we have water buckets to break the ice out of.
And animals to feed.
The goats have made quick work of their Christmas trees.
This was the what a tree looks like on the day its given to the goats.
And this is what that same tree looks like today.
My goats are efficient, to say the least. The ultimate recyclers.
This very cold weather does have some good news attached to it. The cold will kill a ton of parasites that overwinter in the ground, meaning less worming in the Spring. That's a positive.
And on below zero days, we look for any positives we can.
There are a lot of you out there that are looking out for our bees, and I thank you very much.
Over the past few days, I've received numerous copies of this picture via e-mails, texts, Facebook and Pinterest.
I think I even got a copy by Carrier pigeon. It's a pretty reminder of the simple things you can do to help the bees.
Bees are responsible for pollinating one third of our food supply. When you enjoy almonds, blueberries, apples, cherries, blackberries, raspberries, squash, watermelon, oranges, melons or strawberries (just to name a few plants), you can thank the bees.
If you garden at all, even a single potted plant on your front porch, January is the time to start thinking about the bees. There are so many flowers out there that you can plant that will give the bees an important source of pollen and nectar. Get the seed catalogs out and start planning.
If you really want to go all out, you can plant an entire bee garden.
One of the plants the bees at the farm like the most is lavender.
In early Summer, the lavender in our herb garden is loaded with bees. Not only is that good for our honey supply,
but we can also harvest an abundent supply of lavender.
So grab a cup of tea, sit by the fire to watch it snow and think Spring planting. The bees and I will thank you.
Honey Bee Facts:
-- they can fly three to five miles from their hive to collect nectar and pollen.
-- a bee will visit between 50 to 100 individual flowers to collect pollen during one flight.
-- a full hive of bees (approx. 10,000 - 30,000 bees) will fly more than 40,000 miles to collect one pound of honey.
-- male bees do not have a stringer. They have one job and one job only and that is to mate with the queen. After they have done their job, they die.
-- the average worker bee produces only about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. All worker bees are female.
-- worker bees will sting, but only if they feel threatened and are defending their hive and honey. Once they sting, they die.
-- during the Winter, bees live off of stored honey in the hive. Most of the bees die off in the previous Fall, leaving a small cluster in the hive to keep the queen alive until Spring.
By now, you may have heard that its cold out there. Not only cold, but sub-zero cold with wind chills in the penguin range.
You could look at that and be miserable, counting down the days until Spring. Or, you could look at it as an opportunity to hunker down and do some serious knitting. I've gone with the "hunker down and knit" method of coping.
My latest knitting obsession is the Gap-tastic cowl, which is a available as a free pattern download if you are on Ravelry.
(photo by Jen Geigley www.heyjenrenee.com)
First, I made a smaller, thinner, hand-spun version out of some beautiful, hand-dyed 100% alpaca roving from Midwest Fiber Co. I like the thinner version for me because I can wear it inside my coat.
But my daughter wanted a big, chunky, long cowl.
So version two was knit up.
This one was knit with Wool-Ease Thick & Quick yarn. Yes, it was a stretch for me to go with a commercial yarn, and a partially acrylic one at that.
But it's going to college with its owner so there is a good chance it could get left behind in a classroom, a coffee shop, or maybe even the library. I won't feel quite so bad if it gets left behind vs. some of our own yarn.
Version three is on the needles now, made with our own 100% alpaca yarn in worsted weight, fresh from the mill. I doubled up on the yarn to make it more chunky and it is creating a nice, heathered look.
If you'd like a chunky, hand-knit cowl but don't know how to knit, the pattern's designer has a few other finished designs for sale on her Etsy site.
So Winter, bring it on. I can take it.
I have a hand-knit cowl.
I have a confession to make.
I steal Christmas trees.
Maybe steal isn't exactly the right word. Maybe "recycle" is a better way to say it.
That's it. I recycle other people's trees, under the cover of darkness, from their tree lawns.
But I do it for a good cause, so that makes it acceptable, right?
I do it for my beloved goats. They love Christmas trees. And if my goats love Christmas trees, then Christmas trees they shall have.
They love them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
They love them so much that sometimes they even wear them.
The problem is we have only one tree. And one lousy Christmas tree isn't enough to feed my crew of ravenous goats.
So I resort to stealing them off the tree lawns of neighbors and perfect strangers. And no, I don't look the least bit odd with a few "certified pre-owned" Christmas trees strapped to the top of my car the week after Christmas. Not odd at all.
In fact, as I write this, I see out of my office window that my unsuspecting neighbor has just deposited his Christmas tree on the tree lawn.
Come nighttime, that baby is mine.
The goats must be pretty tired of eating plain old hay every day, all Winter. The trees are a treat and they make the most of them, eating them down past the bark.
The sheep, being a little on the less advertureous side (I would never say dull), have no interest in Christmas trees.
They are happy they can eat their hay in peace without the goats butting in. Literally.