Saturday, February 23, 2013

to wait on lambs

Lambing is a season for us here. The mornings start well before the sunrise and our bed time hour is interrupted consistently with lamb checks. We have chosen to do things differently than most dairies. Our lambs are kept on their mothers to be nurtured and fed until they're mature enough to be weaned. When the weaning is taking place is when we began to gather the milk from the mothers - receiving only what milk the lambs no longer need.
Since the milk is what sustains the farm we are anxious to receive it..but for now we must wait. It is not about milk production or quantity. Or the ease of not raising bottle babies, which fate still requires us to do at times. But about balance, virtue, respect..and the lambs. In a fast paced society where we tend to take what we want, it is about slowing down and waiting.

Without this short wait, much would be missed. The simple pleasures of watching mothers tend to their young. As she nuzzles them at first sight, taking great care in cleaning them while lovingly speaking sounds of comfort and calling each of them by name. The nurturing that then gives these young ewes the skills they need to be the next generations of mothers and flock leaders. Witnessing this bond completes a vital circle for me. One that speaks loudly to my heart as a caretaker and mother...and so I wait.
mother and newborn lamb
sunbathing with friends
Being a shepherdess has been a calling that requires much of me but none that reveals more than to sit amongst these girls and their simple sincerity as they raise their young. Where there is no track of time, money or's deeper and richer. I gather and learn from these gracious and humble spirits...and I wait.
her smile says it all :)

Monday, February 18, 2013

another shepherdess

I rarely get a chance to surf the blog world and read or follow posts from other bloggers. But when I do, it's like stepping out of my little world and into someone's a sweet joy especially when the new world belongs to those of like mind. You can still relate because your hearts are in the same place but yet the surroundings and stories are different. That inspires me. Over the past couple of months I've come to realize I'm on the other side of this coin by being the one who is doing the inspiring. But as I browse this newly started and discovered blog, I do not feel as though I'm entering into someone else's world...instead it mirrors much of mine. The page titles and story lines, as well as the name of the blog very much mirror my work. I check out the about me profile, that belongs to the author of this blog and I see my words...A Shepherdess in training. Am I inspiring this blogger or is my character being duplicated? I had a lot of thoughts going through my mind during those moments. I've taken the opportunity to browse this individual's facebook page too which also mimics mine. At first discovery this was all completely disheartening...years of intensively hard work..getting to where we are as a family and farm was not easy and to see our work copied and pasted onto someone else's wall with little to no effort...felt a bit insulting. There is no passion there, no tears, no can't feel our can only read it. There's also no doubt the photos in this blog are not mine, the sheep and human faces that are combined with my thoughts are not of my flock, the farm or the tireless faces behind it all. To followers, this will not engage them. The story lines do not mesh with the photos. The heart can be seen through someone else's eyes but not by copying and pasting. My simple hope is that this youngster who spends much of the time following my life would look at hers - make a heart connection with her sheep and tell their story. To use her thoughts and ideas that go along with her photos to complete a picture that mirrors her life. A successful post is not measured by the amount of readers or its's by reaching them. Just one or two..this is success and can only be accomplished by telling your story, from your heart. 

with much love to you all ~ the heart of a shepherdess

Saturday, February 16, 2013


So here it first attempt at giving some simple instructions on how to make a basic cool method milk soap. And when I say basic...I mean basic! There are only 4 ingredients but you must have a few other supplies on hand as well. If soap making is going to become something you do often - which once you realize you can do it - it will likely become something you won't want to do without. So with this in mind, I'd recommend investing in some simple soap making equipment..some you may have on hand already.
You will need:
  • a digital scale that weighs in ounces
  •  a stick blender (a hand mixer will not give you the desired soap consistency you're looking for but can work in a pinch even though it will leave the soap a bit grainy from the milk)
  • a stock pot (stainless steel recommended)
  • a stainless steel bowl or pot for your lye (do not use aluminum - it reacts badly to lye)
  • a plastic container for measuring your liquids on top of the scale
  • 2 long handled spoons (heat safe - 1 for the lye and 1 for oil mixture)
  • a sieve like strainer (I strain all my lye - this is personal preference to reduce ash build up on the soaps as they cure - but the choice is yours. I've certainly seen a lot of ashy soaps out there) 
  • and a mold. Using plastic or paper cups or a box lined with wax paper for your first molds is sufficient - no need to go out and purchase a lot of extra's in the beginning. I've also seen some heat resistant shaped candy molds at Micheal's that would work great too...maybe you have one on hand already :)
  • 9oz of coconut oil
  • 21oz of olive oil
  • 9oz of milk (cow, goat, coconut or soy & freeze ahead of time - I freeze in ziplocs)
  • 4.1oz lye (granules)
(fragrance or essential oils are optional)

soap starting to harden in the mold
With your plastic container on your scale, measure out the coconut oil (you can heat the coconut oil in the microwave to a liquid consistency or scoop it out and melt it in the stock pot on the stove - your choice). Add your coconut oil to the stock pot. Measure out the olive oil and add to stock pot. If you've melted the coconut oil on the stove - remove your pot from the heat before adding the olive oil. You do not want this oil mixture too hot. In most soap making you regulate the temps but I've cut out the thermometer and temp taking with these simple instructions. So just be sure you bring the coconut oil to the melting point and then remove from the heat source before adding your olive oil.

This is a cool method milk soap - so your 9oz of milk must be frozen.  In your stainless steel bowl add your frozen milk and then add the lye on top of the milk (lye can be dangerous so be careful - all the books and any place that talks about lye recommends using gloves and goggles when handling..this is up to you..but stir your mixture being careful not to splash it on your skin - if you get it on your hands, wash immediately with soap and water. Use your judgement). Stir your lye and milk mixture with a long handled spoon (slotted works the best) until the lye has melted the milk and the lye has dissolved. The bowl should be cool to the touch from the outside by now (the milk mixture may be a bit grainy but if you're using a stick blender to mix the milk/lye/oil mixture, it will resolve that issue). As the lye dissolves and your frozen milk turns to liquid form, you may also smell a bit of an ammonia smell - this is from the lye and is normal. Open a window or turn on your exhaust fan if the fumes are too much.

Once your lye/milk mixture is ready, place your sieve on your stock pot and pour the lye/milk mixture through the sieve and stick blend. As you're stick blending, you will see the soap begin to form as the liquid turns to a creamy consistency and the oils start to pull away from the side. Now you can add your fragrance or essential oil if you'd like - or you can leave it unscented. Your choice. Depending on the fragrance oils, it may accelerate the consistency of your soap faster. If you've purchased your fragrance oil from a soap making site - it will or should say in the description of the oil, if it accelerates the trace or not. Just something to watch out for - we've all had soap set up in the pot. So if it happens and you have to scoop it out of the pot into your molds - not all is lost it's just a pain. You're looking for a pourable consistency though. Once you add the fragrance oil, blend thoroughly and pour immediately into your molds.  This mixture will still be caustic from the lye - so use caution not to get it on your skin.

Your soap will harden and can be removed from the molds in 24-48 hrs. If you've used a box type mold, you can cut them now using a pizza cutter or knife. Move your soaps to a place where they can cure for a few weeks - low humidity and out of sunlight is best. Wallah. You've got milk soaps! There are ph strips you can use to test your soaps before using..the choice is yours. Letting it cure will lower the ph, so the longer it cures the milder the soap.

This is a SUPER basic starter type recipe. As you get more confident you can experiment with different oils, butters and adding additives such as oats or herbs, etc. One of my favorite soaping sites is The Sage - lots of info, ingredients and even a lye calculator for help in formulating your own soap recipes. Soap making is an art and has to be nurtured. The more you make, the better it gets. Practice, practice, Practice. If I can do this..anyone can! Cheers to soap :)

Friday, February 15, 2013

a lamb's tail

Whether born prematurely or on time, the wagging tail of a lamb is a beautiful sight. When warm milk hits their bellies, their tails wag. When they play tag in the field with their cousins, their tails wag. When their digestive system is working the way it needs to..their tails wag. The wagging tail is a sign that all is well in the life of that little lamb.

the healthy firstborn
Our first orphan lamb was born this week - he was a twin and almost a 1/4 the size of his brother, weighing just over 4lbs. Assisting his mom with his brother's birth, I was already there and waiting for this little guy to show his face. His mom is very experienced in lamb birthing and rearing and I still have much to learn from her. With little effort, the tiny twin arrives and as his small woolly body hit the ground - his mom takes one sniff and walks back to her firstborn. Her first born, being less than 10 minutes old, was already attempting to stand. I watched silently as this sweet bond was forming with her firstborn. She talked to him lovingly and spoke the words of encouragement he needed to keep trying to stand, no matter how many times he kept falling back down. In the meantime, the tiny twin is still laying unattended on the cold ground. I had cleared his airway immediately but left the rest of the clean up for his mom because I know how important this is in creating that strong bond between mother and lamb. But his mother paid no mind to his needs or whimpers.

It is a humans first instinct to step in when we see an animal struggling. This was not the first time I've seen this happen and quite likely not the last. So I processed and weighed the options. I allowed some more time to pass before making the decision to put the tiny struggling lamb next to his flourishing brother to see if this would encourage his mother to bond with him. But she did not. In fact, she did the opposite and tried to remove him from his brother's side. By this time the firstborn was already standing and stumbling a bit - but walking. So their mother walked away, leading her firstborn and leaving the struggling twin behind. Because I know this mother so well, I knew in my heart...besides his obvious premature size...something was wrong with this tiny little boy. But unlike his mother...I could not leave him. I am not recovering from pregnancy and birth or saving all my strength and energy to continue to feed and nurture a newborn from my I swooped up his now shivering little body and began cleaning him. Even between a shepherd and lamb, there is a bond that forms during this time. His body once limp and turning blue is being restored to life and a bright pink color. The stimulation is exactly what he needs. I wrap him in a warm towel that I had been saving inside my sweatshirt and we head for the house.
my new snuggle buddy about 20 minutes old
Once inside, I turn on the heating pad and make a temporary nest for him - just like his mother would have. I take his temp, it's still below what it should I continue to rub and rub before finally sticking him inside my sweatshirt, next to my skin, where he can start to absorb my body heat. While he's resting from his rough start in life, I head for the freezer where I have cubes of colostrum that I've collected from other moms in the past..saved for just this kind of occasion. The colostrum is a deep yellow and so thick it's almost pasty as it thaws. This first milk which is packed full of vitamins, is exactly what he needs to get his belly functioning. About the time I have a bottle ready, he's lively and ready to drink. Unable to stand, I swaddle him in my lap and he quickly downs 2oz of the miracle milk. His tail wagged but he's exhausted. The heating pad is nice and toasty and the nest welcomes his little body and together they rest for a couple of hours.
Sophie, our Lhasa, lamb sitting

no longer able to suck from a bottle, he's syringe fed but still his tail wags
This routine was repeated for almost 48 hours before this tiny little fighter finally gave up and let go of life. His last several feedings, his tail was no longer wagging and I knew his time was close. I'm reminded often of how much I should be grateful for...but nothing makes me reflect and be more thankful - than at a time like this. There was something that wasn't right with this sweet little boy and his mama knew it. Maybe I knew it too. But a shepherd does what they have to. There are no regrets. I would do it again and most likely will. There are wins and there are losses. I'm also reminded to not count the losses but to learn from them. Learning is hard and painful sometimes..but still, without hesitation, I would do it again.

around the clock care means going to work with me - he got so much loving from so many caring people in his short life. Kristin and the girls at Blackstone Animal Clinic were sweet encouragement to him and me

In precious memory of all my little woolly fighters who allowed me to love them but were brave enough to let go.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

taking the dirt road

Sometimes I venture off the farm and do a little driving. I'm lured easily by old dirt roads..especially those that are less traveled. There's not a lot to say about roads but they host all sorts of travelers and always lead somewhere with a beginning and an end...there's just something I like about that. One day last month the cowboy and I found a secluded, less traveled dirt road - it was like it was made just for us to drive on that day.

the old dirt road with no name
Near the end of this road, that has no name, stood a house. Not just any house, this house was different. It was obviously abandoned with many old structures that surrounded it. There was a story to be told here and I could not resist the urge that was drawing me to it. So cowboy pulled over and yes we did...we crossed that gated driveway and began walking down the undisturbed dirt road that lead to the front porch of this ancient but still very prominent, old house. There was something different about this house. The trees that gathered around us were rustling loudly. The air was cool to my face but warmed me from within. There was a story to be told here. The cowboy and I walked around briefly but I could not escape the feeling that we were not where we were supposed to be. I took in as much as I could of the sights of the old homestead - the split driveway - the layout of the broken down structures which included some sturdy framed tobacco barns - even the grain of the wood siding. I didn't want to forget a thing..and I haven't. There were no neighbors, no mailbox, no address but for days I could not get this house out of my mind...I needed to find out it's story and so the search began.

the Jones farm house
Kudos to Google...there's no doubt that I would still be digging and possibly endlessly, without it. Deep in the archives of the internet, I found that this old house, near the end of that untraveled dirt road, had belonged to the Jones Family and dated back to the early 1800's. I had also found the registration form that listed this homestead into the National Register of Historical Places. This 23 paged, well written form filled in so many of the pieces..answers to questions I didn't even have yet. It made the hair stand up on my arms. From the pine board floors of the house to it's 9 foot ceilings and movable metal key holes on the existing panels of the original doors. To the outbuildings and all that inhabited them including the detailed descriptions of those enchanting tobacco barns. As I continued on reading about the prosperity of this local tobacco farm..I saw what I had been looking for. This particular farm not only supported the Jones family but also their slaves. A prosperous mid-nineteenth century plantation home that dated back to the slave era, into the civil war and eventually providing freedom to the slaves that worked the plantation in the twentieth century - now referring to them as farm tenants. This was the story. So I began to dig deeper looking for additional info on, what the registry referred to as the farm tenants.

house and outbuilding
One thing that I found was a 13 paged, detailed list of freed slaves in Lunenburg County dated between 1815-1850. I had no way of knowing if the Jones family farm tenants were on this list or if they knew each other or were even possibly relatives but I couldn't get away from the feeling that this list somehow meshed with this farm. No matter which way I dug - all roads lead back to this list. And so my mind took me back to an era that is etched so profoundly on my heart. I read these pages over and over. I pasted below just a few of those that were featured on that list. It's gripping and stirs something so deep inside of me that I feel it in my bones.

Griffin, aged about 45 years formerly the property of John Cocke, dec, of  
        Nottoway  County, about 5 feet 11 inches high, with a small scar on the 
        back of his right hand, bright mulatto with long hair, a little gray, it 
        appearing to the satisfaction of the Court that he has been duly 
        emancipated by a deed from James Mackarland law duly recorded in the 
        county Court of Lunenburg registered the 10 December 1822.  No. 16
Ellick, aged about 34, years formerly the property of John Cocke, dec., of 
        Nottoway County, about 5 feet 8 inches high, with a scar under his right 
        jaw, a bright mulatto, nearly ball, short hair, it appearing to the 
        satisfaction of the Court that he has been duly recorded in the County 
        Court of Lunenburg registered the 10 December 1822.  No. 17
Menirva Lee Dinkins, about 22 years old, bright mulatto, born of fine parents in 
        this County, small mole on her upper lip, about 5 feet 7 inches high, 
        ordered to be registered in Lunenburg County Court 10 January 1848.  
        No. 137
Emily Dinkins, about 20 years of age, bright mulatto complexion, a scar on her 
        right arm near the shoulder, about 5 feet 6 inches high, born of fine 
        parents in this County, ordered to be registered in Lunenburg County Court 
        1 January 1848.  No. 138
Eliza, a bright mulatto, 5 feet 2 inches high, 26 years of age, no scar, 
        emancipated by the will of Turner Shell and permitted to remain in this 
        County by order of this court, ordered to be registered, and the Court 
        certified, the above register to be correctly made, done in open Court 
        18th May 1848.  No. 139
Sarah Chapman, daughter of R. Chapman, a bright mulatto, about 21 years of age, 
        born of fine parents, no scar, a mole on the upper lip of the right eye, 
        about 5 feet 4 inches high, is ordered to be registered.  The Court 
        certified the above register to be correctly made, done in open Court 9th 
        October 1848.  No. 140
Drury Cooper, a free mulatto born of fine parents in this County, who is about 
        24 years of age, 6 feet 1 inches high, has a scar on the upper part of the 
        forehead and on the left hand at the root of the thumb, bright complexion, 
        straight hair, is ordered to be registered, the Court certify that the 
        said register is correctly made.  January 8th, 1849.  No. 141
Clara Ann Young, a free woman of dark complexion, about 27 years of age 5 feet 3 
        inches high, no scar, born of free parents, proved her freedom by the oath 
        of John D. Bell and is ordered to be registered and the Court doth certify 
        that said register is correctly made, June 11th, 1849.  No. 142
Samuel M. Diarman, an infant son of Mary Doswell, who was emancipated by the 
        will of David M. Doswell, dec., six years old in July last, a bright 
        mulatto, about 3 feet 4 inches is ordered to be registered and the Court 
        certify also the register to be correctly made, 13th August 1849.  No. 143
Alpheus Addphus Gustavus, an infant son of Mary Doswell, who was emancipated by 
        the will of David Doswell, dec., one year old in March last, has a scar on 
        his right shoulder, yellow complexion, about 2 feet 5 inches high, is 
        ordered to be registered and the court certify also the register to be 
        correctly made, 13 August 1849.  No. 144

I've went back to this homestead a couple times since I discovered it. I can not begin to tell what I feel when I'm there..the untraveled dirt road, the deep rooted trees, the wind sweeping through the once worked fields..I don't just feel the history there, I can see it and with lots of moves me.

African American History Month

Monday, February 4, 2013

escaping Winter with dinner

Usually we get our fill of salad greens in the spring and summer months but with all the warm and hearty comfort food we've been eating...I've been craving a cold, crisp garden salad. Here's what I threw together..finding decent salad greens in the dead of winter was the only thing I found complex about this meal.
marinated & grilled chicken, goat cheese and sweet & sour dressing
Thankfully, I still have a little goat cheese in the freezer left over from the cheese bounty last year..cuz there's nothing better than a little Italian crumbled goat cheese on a garden salad! I then whipped up a little marinade for the chicken. I do love a good marinade. Mine are always different..with a marinade, it's hard to go wrong. It just depends on what I have in the kitchen and what sounds good to to what goes in it. Today's marinade was:
1 cup olive oil
1 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (love that vinegar!)
1/2 cup blackberry wine
chopped celery and plenty of my dried herbs
(basil, parsley, rosemary, lemon thyme & taragon)
ground pepper
whisk it all together and add the chicken - I let it sit all day before taking the chicken to the grill. You can adjust the measurements and the ingredients to your liking. Variations could be adding soy, hot peppers, liquid smoke, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar and so on. The marinade will work it's magic during the day while you're busy doing other things. What's not to love!

That evening after the grill has been turned on, I whip up one our favorite salad dressings. This is also one of those recipes where lots of variation can be used. 

Sweet and Sour Dressing:
1 cup olive oil (or another favorite oil)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice (or vinegar..sweet pickle juice also adds a delicious zest)
1 med. onion
chopped celery (or 1 tsp celery seeds)
1 tsp salt
1 Tblsp mayo (homemade is the best..greek yogurt also works great)
1 Tblsp mustard
1/4 tsp ground pepper
and plenty of my dried herbs
mix in the blender

Sweet & Sour Dressing
Sometimes, even in the frigid months of winter, you need a little taste of summer...this simple and delicious meal took me there! 

Friday, February 1, 2013

vacations are for hens

5 dozen of fresh eggs this week
 Our hens have finally awoke from their long winter's rest of non-laying. It crossed my mind that maybe they had forgotten how to lay eggs. Was laying an egg like riding a bike..were they always going to know how or was this something they were going to have to relearn? I had no idea..all I knew was that for several months I watched 60 plus hens scurrying about, foraging, grazing, nesting, sunbathing and cackling..with no eggs in sight.
chicks from the past
I thought I had planned very well. I hatched chicks every few months the past couple of years, always hoping to keep a young batch of layers going. But apparently this past winter, when the older girls went on vacation and rested...the younger ones went too. Instead of pitching in and pulling their weight around the farm, it appears they fluffed up their feathers, grabbed their favorite coffee mugs, some good reads and kicked up their feet. If only I had known..I would've joined them!
the girls are back in town and they brought eggs

Egg-septional  Egg Info

The egg shell may have as many as 17,000 tiny pores over its surface. Through them, the egg can absorb flavors and odors. Storing them in their cartons helps keep them fresh.

Eggs are placed in their cartons large end up to keep the air cell in place and the yolk centered.

Eggs age more in one day at room temperature than in one week in the refrigerator

Eggs can be kept refrigerated in their carton for at least 4 to 5 weeks beyond the pack date.

A hard-cooked egg will peel more easily if it is a week or two old before it is cooked.

To tell if an egg is raw or hard-cooked, spin it! If the egg spins easily, it is hard-cooked but if it wobbles, it is raw.

A cloudy white is a sign of freshness, not age, because of a high carbon dioxide content put in when the egg is laid.

If an egg is accidentally dropped on the floor, sprinkle it heavily with salt for easy clean up.

A greenish ring around a hard-cooked egg yolk is due to either overcooking or a high iron content in the cooking water. This can be avoided using proper cooking time and temperature, and by rapidly cooling the cooked egg.

In cooking, eggs are "the cement that holds the castle of cuisine together." because of their ability to bind, leaven, thicken, emulsify, clarify, and more in all types of recipes.

The egg yolk and white separate best when cold. Egg whites will beat to a better volume if they're allowed to stand at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before eating.

A fresh egg will sink in water while an older egg will stand up. As the egg gets older the air space in the egg increases causing it to float.

The stringy piece of material in the egg is not an embryo but rather a special protein called chalazae which acts as a shock absorber for the yolk so it doesn't break

Eggs contain the highest quality protein you can buy. Egg protein has just the right mix of essential amino acids needed by humans to build you own tissues. In addition, eggs have thirteen essential vitamins and minerals

Eggs contain the highest quality food protein known. It is second only to mother's milk for human nutrition.

Egg yolk is one of the few foods that contain Vitamin D

Egg yolk is the major source of the egg's vitamins and minerals.

A large egg contains only 75 calories and 5 grams of fat.

Egg yolks are one of the few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D.

Eggs have no vitamin C because the chick can produce it from food it eats.

 the incredible edible egg jingle

You can download the jingle and use it for your ringtone here...why not :) Ringtone