Thursday, 18 July 2019

June's Work

Summer has finally arrived and brought not just warm, dry days but many of them in a row. It makes it easier to plan big jobs like getting pheasants out to wood or hay cut which require a spell of good weather.

Last Tuesday was our last hatch of the season. The incubators and hatchers are all scrubbed down and closed up for the season. I will turn the hatching room back into the butchery over the coming months, ready for shooting season.

Mike, with a lot of help from beaters and staff, managed to get almost half of our birds to wood. Beaters - like Andy here - catch pheasant poults in the sheds, crate the poults and stack the crates on a buggy, ready for their short trip to the woods -

.
The crates are stacked 4 high so each trip carries 8 crates. We run two buggies in tandem, so we're always loading or unloading and can keep the process moving. I'm following Mike -


We pass our neighbour's herd of Hereford suckler cows, i.e. calves that are born and stay with their mothers in a small herd, out on pasture, free to suckle and graze and enjoy the views. The cattle look so well, healthy and content. I can see his hay field behind is cut and on the ground, soon to be baled.


Hey it's not just the cows that want to enjoy the views. I love admiring good stockmanship.

When we get to the woodland pen, I check and make sure feed and water stations are full and working-



Then I can open the crate doors and let the pheasants out -


They come out in their own time. The brave ones take flight, but the cautious ones stand on the edge of the buggy and check out their surroundings first. I stand back and watch. Way back, as the pheasants inevitably poo when they fly so it's best to be out of target range.

When my crates are empty, I drive back to the sheds to swap my empty crates for full ones and the process repeats until the woodland pen is full or the sheds are empty. I have to keep a tally of how many crates (15 birds to a crate) that I release. I have a perfectly good phone that has apps I could use to keep track but no, I do this -


It's only slightly better than Mike's system of scratching marks in the mud inside his buggy -


Honestly, you think we would embrace the modern conveniences in our pockets.

The birds are embracing their new outdoor lifestyle and settled in well, finding food and a place to perch up high from predators. We surround the wood with 8ft wire and a strand of electric wire at ground level, just to help protect them while they adapt to living outside. Both will be lifted in due time.

Now we have to bring food to the woods to feed the pheasants. About this much a week -


It's delivered to the house on Mondays and the guys have to feed every bag by hand. It is hard work.

Speaking of animal feed, I've made my own hay this year. This is only because I rented a field and didn't graze it soon enough. The grass got so long, making hay was the only option.

I hired a contractor to cut and ted (spin the hay to dry it out) my grass. His tedder broke down and rain was coming. I called my neighbour Margaret for help  She's runs a feed store and knows everyone. Margaret sent her husband with his old tedder and a friend with even older baler to get me out of trouble -

You can see the rain clouds amassing behind us.

They left the bales on the field for me to pick up. I rushed out of bed early the next morning to bring them home and stack them. In total it took 4 trips with the trailer. Mike met me to help after I finished the first load. He even brought coffee - the whole pot, sloshing around the floor of the Land Rover, and a couple of mugs on the front seat with Molly. Typical Mike catering, but most welcome even with the dust and dog hair in it. .


Yes I am still in my pyjamas but I managed to beat the rain! Here's my haul: 125 bales of meadow hay which cost me 50p each for the baling, and a nice bottle of Malbec for Margaret's husband.

Last month during lambing I was paying up to £7 a bale!

I have put tarps over the stack and will leave it for a month or so. Hay can heat up and even burst into flames when it's first baled (same concept as the heating up of your compost pile) so I will wait to store it in the barn until autumn.

So, to recap (because I love reminding myself it's all done...) ---

Our hatches are finished,
Half the birds are to wood,
The sheep are all sheared and the fleece sold,
Lambing is done (042 never produced, she was just fat!),
And the hay is in!

It's been a productive month.

On the down side, my vegetable garden is pathetic. The rabbits ate my runner bean plants and kale, so I will be eating rabbits instead of greens. The crows are still stealing my chicken eggs if I don't collect them quick enough. The window on the tractor is still waiting to be fixed, along with belts on the mower and an oil leak on the telehandler.

And finally, we did not buy the farmhouse and 11 acres. Sadly, we couldn't get the funding in place in time for the auction. But our pheasant vet and her husband bought it, so that's good news. There are plenty of good places out there and we will keep looking until we find ours.

There's no time to sit on our June accomplishments. Next on the list is the County Fair being held here at the estate, so I have a lot of tractor mowing to do to make everything tidy. My horse field is going to be used as the gun dog arena so I need to get that in shape next. And now that the butchery will be back on line, I can spend a few evenings in a high seat and bag myself a muntjac deer or two to save for beaters' lunches.

I might even have a day off.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

An Indoor Day. Mostly.

It's still raining so I've decided to have an office day indoors. Well, mostly indoors; I will have to spend a few hours outside checking my trap lines and walking dogs.

And there's no point going in the garden. The vegetable garden is shocking this year. My beans and squash are way behind. My only good harvest this season may be tomatoes and cucumbers from the greenhouse and fruit from the orchard. Only the weeds are flourishing and it's too wet to walk on the soil and sort them out. It happens like that some years.

Molly likes having office days too -

She "doesn't do rain".


We just finished taking off this morning's hatch of partridge and pheasants. My job (and it's my favourite!) is helping stragglers out of their shells. Here's a short video showing a partridge needing a little help -

I'm only doing it one-handed because I have to hold the camera

In an average hatch, we probably help out about 100 live pheasant and partridge chicks. About half of those survive, so over 12 hatches that's about 600 extra live chicks. Partridge chicks, though smaller, are tougher than pheasant chicks and more of them get up on their feet.

Not a lot of hatcheries do this. Some even feel that it's pointless to rear anything but the strongest chicks. We have to pull out and box all the chicks at a fixed time, so some of the chicks, although strong, are just late.

Mike usually gives these chicks, which we call "wets", to youngsters who like to raise a few for themselves or to young keepers starting out who can do with an extra few free chicks (each chick costs about 70p to buy normally).

When I help the late chicks out of the shell, I try and leave a bit of eggshell on the bottom. This encourages the chick to kick off the shell and help strengthen its legs and straighten out its body after being curled up inside the egg -


The wets go back in the warm hatchers for a few hours together to dry off and gather their strength while we clean down, disinfect and prepare the other chicks for shipment. It gives the wets a bit of extra time to recover.

Other babies this week include two healthy ewe lambs from Friendly ewe -


This one's for your Janice!

Friendly ewe has mastitis in one side, so she's short of milk to feed twins. I bottle feed the lambs a couple times a day to top them up, but they stay with mum for everything else. 

I looked back in my breeding records and see that I noted both ewe 0007 and Friendly ewe had mastitis previously, hence they've both lost one teat (the teat is hard and won't produce milk again). I gave them a free pass from ice camp because 0007's fleece is excellent and Friendly ewe is, well, friendly. Still, they both gave me 3 new ewe lambs in total so it's worth a bit of bottle feeding on my part. 

Ewe 0042 is still left to lamb. I turfed her out in the field a few weeks ago but it looks like she's getting ready to lamb. Finally. I'll bring her back in to the barn and hopefully by the end of the week I will be done with lambs. I will not lamb this late again, if I can help it.

The other reason for having an office day is organise my paperwork for my accountant. Yes, I have hired a farm accountant now, which is a good sign of progress. 

I'm also meeting with the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation tomorrow, to see if I can get a loan in principle against Milkweed & Teasel, our farmland in Dorset. We have found a farmhouse and 11 acres locally that we're going to make an offer on when it goes to auction in July. We may be quickly outbid which is fine, but Mike and I are now concentrating on selling our land in Dorset and buying a farmhouse with land as our final home, here in Wales. The search may take a year or two, which is also fine. 

Of course, I will keep you posted. Until then I will keep expanding our small farming operation here. And paying taxes I hope!

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Elderflowers, Lambs, and a Wet June

I think it's rained for most of June so far. It's cold enough today that I'm wearing a scarf indoors. If I had any wood left I would light the wood stove. Instead I'm making do with a sweater and a hot water bottle.

Until this rain came in. I was getting stuck into my tractor mowing. I still have a few fields to cut and the grass is getting too long to be of good feed value. The weather stopped my work, as did my run-in with a tree branch -


I was watching the mower out of the other window and didn't see the cut branch sticking out. I've ordered another window and will pick up the mowing again when the new window and dry weather arrive.

Just before the rain came, I managed to pick some elderflower heads to make elderflower cordial, a sweet floral drink that is great as a soft drink in sparkling water, or as an addition to gin or prosecco. 

Common elderflower (Sambucus nigra) grows worldwide and is easy to identify. You want to pick the flowering heads when they're creamy white. The photo below shows flower heads not yet open (green), at their peak (behind), and gone over (right). If you use the overripe flowers, your cordial will have a musty, compost-like taste.


I use the River Cottage recipe as a guideline. I do pick them early and on a warm day. I drop all the heads in a bag and give it a half hour for the bugs to leave the flower heads. 

When the cordial is made, I freeze it in batches in plastic leftover containers.


It's not glamorous or Instagram worthy to look at, but it's simple and effective.

When they're frozen, I slide all the batches between wax paper and into a plastic ziplock bag to save freezer space. I can just pull out a few servings at a time through the year.

I also sent my first Dorset x Friesian lamb to Ice Camp -


The carcase looks pretty good. Leaner than a pedigree Dorset.


When I ringed this lamb's testicles I missed one, so he grew a lot quicker than the others. I wanted to put him in the freezer before any hormones made him taste gamey. I butchered him myself so I could have the bones and scraps for the dogs.

I can't tell you yet how he tastes. The same afternoon that I set about breaking down the carcase, Mike was given a whole sea bass from our friend Scotty, and a selection of game meats to try from a new butcher. We've been spoiled for choice!

I had another lamb born last week - a big ram lamb. 


Friendly ewe will lamb next, by the weekend I expect. And I still bottle feed lamb number 7 in the field once a day to keep her topped up as mother hasn't got much milk.



As I'm rained out of the garden and fields, I got on and delivered my fleeces to the Irish wool buyers early this morning.


I still had the big delivery van from delivering pheasant chicks yesterday so I made good use of it. Each of those bags is called a "sheet" so I have two wool sheets to sell. The buyers will grade the fleece then send payment, so I have to wait and see how we did this year.

On a positive note, I've just finished last year's tax return and for the first time I have a tax bill to pay! Normally I make so little on the farm after deductions and capital investments that the government pays me a small refund. This year I owe them - only £28 but still a small milestone for the farm business.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Shearing Day

The bulk of my flock gets shorn once a year. Timing depends on a lot of factors: after the last frost has passed but before it gets too hot, when the flies that lay eggs in fleece start hatching, on a dry day, long before or shortly after lambing, when you're shearer can fit you in.

Hence, shearing is probably one of my most stressful times of the year. My anxiety dreams go from my default recurring "I'm a week late for my university classes and don't know where my class is, plus I'm carrying all my luggage with me" dream, to the " I'm trying to gather my sheep and I can't find five of them, some won't be caught, where did I park the trailer?".

It's not just me who stresses. Angela, my fellow small flock enthusiast, asked me to give her a hand on her shearing day for "moral support". Big farmers with thousands of sheep have no problem getting teams of shearers to work for them - a lot of sheep means good money, usually with commercial (small and less hairy) breeds that shear quickly.

Only some shearers will even consider doing small flocks like mine where the sheep can take twice as long to shear and it's only a couple hours' work for the time and trouble it takes them to set up their shearing stations. I do understand the economics of it all. And, like so many things in farming, if you need it done so does everyone else, all at the same time. We're all competing for the same skilled workforce.

We were lucky to find Kieran. He shears big flocks during the day, and does a few small flocks in the evening. He has a mobile shearing unit that he tows behind his truck. He's only 27 yet runs his own farm with his mother and siblings. Kieran is laid back, friendly and talks to the sheep in a kind voice, never losing his temper with even the worst of my thrashing, kicking ewes.

Kieran set aside time to shear my girls for me. I gathered them and moved them to our lambing barn as rain was forecast and my sheep needed to be dry. Thankfully, the barn holds about 50 sheep comfortably for a couple days as Keiran got held up on some big commercial days. My flock overnighted happily in the barn with plenty of hay for dinner. The extra day also gave me the chance to vaccinate, worm, trim feet and treat any conditions that needed attention, all in a dry barn. Pure bliss!

In the barn ready to be rid of their heavy fleeces

The In box....

...and the Out box

Raw fleece ready to be rolled. The dirt and grease washes out easily.

I roll the fleeces while Kieran shears, and the flock filled two great wool sheets to sell to the Irish wool merchants. Selling the fleece will recoup about half of my shearing bill (and Kieran is very reasonably priced).  Both Angela and I have booked him for next year, sweetening the deal by keeping him in cakes and cider while he worked. Having the barn and a chilled out shearer took most of the stress out of shearing day. I can go back to my "late for class" anxiety dreams now.

There are 3 ewes still to lamb. They're taking their time, probably enjoying the pampering and extra grain rations. I had to move them to a makeshift pen during shearing and they go out on grass during the day, but in the evenings they have the whole barn with fresh straw beds and hay for days all to themselves.

A bit of grass and sunshine for the mums to be. 
The third ewe is a few weeks away yet so I've put her in the field until it's closer to her time.

The shorn flock (minus 6 lambers) have gone back onto good pasture to spend the summer looking at the views and converting grass to flesh. Aside from daily checks, my sheep flock will go on the mental back burner until October, when I will prep the ewes for mating and put the rams in with them for lambs next spring.


Now my focus is on fields and garden. I will take the log splitter off the tractor and put the mower back on (another sign of summer coming!) and cut any of my grazing pastures that have got too long, This will encourage grass growth that is more nutritious for the sheep in later summer, when I need to rotate their grazing. I can't believe it's the first of June already.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Men and Machines

By men, I mean of the sheep variety. Yesterday I collected a new ram for my flock-


His breeders named him Aladdin, but I've shortened it to a Welsh name: Aled. He's been shown before and is halter trained, plus he has a calm nature. He came home in the back of my pickup and, though we got some strange looks on the highway, he was pretty chill for the hour and a half ride home. He's young and will fill out over the next year, but he's got good conformation. I'm really pleased with him.

Although it's best to quarantine any new sheep before introducing them to your flock, Aled has a health certificate. Even then, as Aled is a ram, I can't just drop him off in the field with my other rams. Boys fight. And rams fight with their reinforced skulls, repeatedly, until someone gets a concussion. So the accepted method of introducing new rams is to pen them together in a small area so they are too close to get a good run up and butt heads.

Pumpkin is trying to stay out of the way - you can just see his back

I made a pen in a section of the lambing barn next to the ewes using cattle hurdles (extra tall and extra strong) and lots of baler twine for reinforcement. It's working fine, though I had to break up a few fights with my shepherd's crook and a stern word. I'm not sure they care about my disapproving words too much.

The rams will stay penned in for a few days until they smell like each other and can get along. I'm taking this opportunity while they're indoors to shear the rams. Ed, the neighbour's shepherd, is going to come tonight and do it for me. My rams are just too big for me to manhandle well enough to shear them properly. My ram-handling skills are limited to wooing them with pats and buckets of grain. I'll set up my shearing machine for Ed, then tomorrow after work I can do the few ewes in the barn that are still waiting to lamb.

I have my own shearing machine, though I'm a terrible shearer. It gets me out of sticky spots, like when a ewe gets maggots in her fleece. I had to treat Grumpy's ewe lamb for maggots this morning. The maggots around her back end were inside her. I had to physically remove them. From inside her. No I'm not taking pictures of that. I then scrubbed her in my kitchen sink with baby shampoo, trimmed her tail, put some anti-fly medicine on her. She proceeded to pee all over my feet (I was wearing crocs). I had pee and maggots on my feet.

I wonder why I keep sheep sometimes.

I will get on YouTube later to remind me the steps for shearing sheep properly. I don't know what I would do without YouTube. This week alone I used it to put a new pull cord on one mower, and replace a blade on another mower. I have very little machinery knowledge. Like almost none. I learn as I go along.

When we got our new (old) tractor, I had to write the list of steps on a note on my phone so I could remember how to start it and what different levers and gears did.  Last year we bought a mower to go on the back of the tractor for mowing overgrown fields and paddocks. I taught myself to use it, added more notes to my phone reminder, and paid off the tractor mower by the end of the summer just by hiring myself out to cut people's horse paddock and small fields.

Cutting the pheasant field for Mike last summer. Yes of course I made him pay me!

This week we've made another machinery investment.  -


It's a telehandler. Basically it has forks or a bucket on the front so one can lift and move heavy things, bales of hay, pallets of stuff, etc. It's great for saving time and saving wear on an ageing body. Again, it's a slightly older model (in our price range) but sound. I had to drive it home from the farm where it was delivered. I sort of learned to drive it on the way and was grateful no other car was coming down the narrow lanes before I got it home.

It's jointed in the middle - sort of like driving a snake!

I will take a course on using the machine safely. When it comes to dangerous machines, I try and balance "having a go" with being informed. And I'll always ask a local farmer for help when I get stuck.

I bought a small zero-turn ride on mower over winter because it was such a good deal. I can have it paid off too by just mowing a few lawns and orchards in the area this summer.

We are trying to accumulate a few basic machines to help with our farming while we are both employed. The telehandler means I can move all my sheep equipment by myself, purchase big bales of hay and straw at significantly cheaper rates than small bales, and buy my sheep feed in ton bags. Mike will use it for pheasant rearing too. I think it's a good investment.

I promise it's not all work here. In the evenings I let the dogs free range in the orchard. Last night I gave them the bones to chew from the deer i butchered, while I enjoyed a glass of wine. I never underestimate a bit of Dutch courage to get me though things either!




Thursday, 23 May 2019

May Jobs

Just a quick post to show you why I'm a bit slow with the updates.

I'm lambing again, just a few ewes put to Horned ram for replacement stock. It's slow going but we've had a few born-

The maternity ward

Ewe 101 and her twins, a ewe and ram lamb

The highlight was Grumpy ewe - she popped out her usual giant single lamb but it was a ewe lamb! Finally!!

Miss Grumpette

Time will tell if she inherits her mother's personality. I'm not sure I can handle a second grumpy in the flock.

The pheasants are hatching every Tuesday-


We hatched over 8,000 this week. Mike and I take turns delivering the chicks all around the UK, so Tuesdays are very long days, at least for another couple of months.

My garden took a hit during the last storm. I lost some seedlings and have had to start over with my beans. The plants are slow to get going but the weeds are out of control already. The weed cover does great job suppressing any weeds underneath, but also creates a slug haven, and I lost my pumpkin and yellow squash seedlings overnight to the beasts. I'm going to put in a few hours this afternoon and try to turn the tide in my favour, and get round two of my seedlings outdoors.

Otherwise, it's business as usual: rescuing swan chicks that fall down the cattle grids -





Cutting stuck goats out of the fence -


You know, just the usual stuff.

I have bought a new Poll Dorset ram which I will collect tomorrow. He's coming from Stratford-upon-Avon so he might get called Shakespeare. I've also bought some Icelandic sheep, inspired after a day out at a Wool festival. I will pick those up when they're finished lambing . Only a few, to add a bit of colour to my flock and my knitting projects.

This week there's still lambs to vaccinate, ewes to trim, shearers to organise, dogs to train, squirrels to trap, and possibly more deer to butcher (I did two at lunchtime yesterday).

I'm feeling my age and what I really want is a nap.

I'd better go tackle the garden now before it's nothing but nettles.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Seedlings, Goats, and Fleece

Spring is coming. I've heard the first cuckoo of the year. The blossoms are out on the cherry trees and on the blackthorns in the hedgerow. Mike swears by the blackthorns and claims winter isn't over until the blackthorn sheds its blossoms. I put my faith in Kitty the horse: when her winter coat starts coming out in handfuls and the little birds pick up the drifts of horse hair for their nests, I feel it's safe to start putting seedlings in the garden. So that's what I've been doing.

I've taken over the pigpen garden for squashes and pumpkins, about 5 different varieties. I'm experimenting with planting under permeable weed cover -


It's reusable and by burning holes into the fabric instead of cutting them, the fabric won't fray (Thank you YouTube...) If it works, I don't have to use chemical sprays or spend every Sunday on my creaky knees weeding the veg patch. 

There's still room in the pigpen garden for my sweet pea, cutting flowers, and tomatillo seedlings, which I'll get to this week. 

I'm only growing cucumbers, tomatoes and tender herbs in the greenhouse -


The seedlings always look so small when I plant them, and every year I give way to temptation and plant them too thickly. I end up with an impenetrable tomato jungle and unripe tomatoes. I'm practicing restraint this year. 

I'm growing some bush tomatoes and hardier outdoor cucumbers next to the greenhouse, hedging my bets that we'll have another hot, dry summer. I chose different varieties most years, but always have beefsteak and cherry types. Mike would eat only tomatoes and cucumbers for every meal, all summer. (I require a daily amount of cheese at least!)

I've planted the purple french beans and yellow wax beans where the squashes were last year -


I cut the hazel stick supports while I was out checking my squirrel traps. The tall ones support the french beans, and I wove a small open panel of hazel to support the dwarf wax beans. I dug in some homemade compost and mulched the seedlings. 

I used both these varieties last year and saved the seeds as they were heritage varieties. The germination was good, and I know that they both grow well in my garden. French beans are expensive and imported from Africa, so I don't buy them in the store. 

The rhubarb crowns in front of the beans are ready to eat and for the next month or two, the boys will be eating rhubarb cakes, muffins, and bars at teatime. Then it's gooseberries, raspberries, and finally apples and pears. Nothing hangs around long enough that we get sick of eating it. Except maybe pheasant.

Of course, now that the seedlings are going in, the chickens and turkeys are on lock down. They have been free-ranging since last autumn, but will now stay in their run for the growing season. One of my turkeys has gone broody, so I've set 16 turkey eggs in my little tabletop incubator. I hope they will hatch and I can foster them under her.

Mike and others on the estate are ready for more pigs. I turned their old home back into garden, so Mike had to find another scrap of rough land - it's a corner of his rearing field. Scott the fencer (and happy pork customer) has put in the fence posts for us with his machine -


We also have a proper pig ark! It was a trade with our local goat farmer for pork and a Christmas turkey-

I feel we got the better end of the deal, so I will give him more pork from our next lot of pigs for his freezer.

Speaking of goats, we have seven now -


That's Nanny Giblets in front, Eileen the three-legged goat (in her winter coat), Talgarth our friendly ginger boy, his sister Nanny White Stripe behind him, then Nanny Magnolia. Nanny Brambles (retired) is too busy eating hay to join the photo op. The horned male goatling doesn't have a name.

The two goatlings with horns were born to Nanny Ivy last year. We lost Nanny Ivy to old age over the winter. The two horned goatlings are destined for the freezer as one is a boy and one has a congenital birth defect: she was born with her leg on backwards. So we named her Peggy -

Peggy

Peggy and Eileen were kindred spirits. Peggy was born here, but we ended up with Eileen because...Mike. He was at the local goat farm and there was a lovely, kind goat that was roaming the barns. The farmer said she broke her elbow but it never set right and she had a pronounced limp, but she was such a favourite of the milking staff that she just stayed and did her own thing. Unfortunately for me, Mike had the trailer on back (he bought Nanny Giblets and Nanny Magnolia and was collecting them) so he offered to give this goat with a broken elbow a home.

Peggy was born not long after, and seemed to bond with Eileen almost right away. Eileen even started producing milk to feed her. They were usually the goats bringing up the rear at feeding times. They even share the same bad leg: front right.

Peggy adapted better to her disability than Eileen did, and even now Peggy will pogo around the field, withered leg swinging wildly, keeping up with her brother at a run. Eileen found carrying a broken foreleg more challenging.

Fun Fact: In four-legged animals like goats and horses, 60% of their weight is carried on the front legs, usually 30% each leg (20/20 on the hind legs). So Eileen had over half her weight concentrated on one foreleg.

Sadly, we had to put Eileen down just a few days ago. The vets examined her and suspected pneumonia, and she wasn't responding to treatment. She got quite thin even though she had her own special padded coat and slept in the barn on straw. Our neighbouring goat farmer once told me that "A sick goat is a dead goat" and he's right. They go down fast and hard.

So, now we are down to 6 goats. 4 goats after the horned goatlings go to ice camp, but that won't be for a long while yet. And there will be more kids to come too.

The goat herd is currently on loan to the estate to clear up a small paddock that has become choked and overgrown with ivy, bramble and weeds. 


They are enjoying their new dining experience and have made friends with the chocolate labrador next door. As more disused areas are fenced, I will lend my goats to the cause of clearing up. They are happy to oblige and the varied diet suits them. Nanny Giblets was prone to bloat but I haven't treated her once since she started her paddock clearance diet.

The weather has been warm and dry, but today and through the weekend it's set to rain. I'm now on my indoor jobs: baking a week's worth of cakes and scones (Hello rhubarb!) and processing some fleece ready for spinning -


I've been washing it in small batches and preparing it to spin. In the hot weather, I've been drying it on the clothesline in hay nets and sacks I save from my pony carrots. 

I commissioned my friend Angela who, besides shepherding her own flock of sheep, is a knitter and weaver. She used my Dorset yarn, plus Gotland, Icelandic, and Shetland fleeces I'd spun to weave a beautiful scarf for my sister's birthday, here being modeled by Pip -


The natural colours of the different wools really compliment each other. Angela sells her scarves and Ryeland wool on her Etsy site or you can commission your own.

I'm already working on woolly Christmas gifts. The fleece I'm preparing now is from ewe 0007, who I had to catch and treat for a foot infection this morning. I took the chance to look at her fleece and this year's wool is looking just as good. I'll hold her fleece back again. Rainy days give me a good excuse to spin wool and be creative.