Wednesday, December 24, 2014

splendid holiday, simple delight

Christmas eve morn and all is calm. The tree lights are flickering through the window in the little farmhouse in the field. A cold rain hitting the metal roof outside while all is warm and cozy inside. 3 farm kids sleeping toasty in their beds and 4 furry, pawed kids dreaming of catching the squeaky balls that bounce in their heads. Indeed it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas around here.
With Christmas comes a year in review, for me. I am pulled to hibernate during this season and soak in all of the simpleness, so even the smallest of things aren't missed. The beauty of a winter sky, a star filled night, a brilliant sunrise, tattered old wool mittens, heavy thick winter coats on the guardians, growing bellies in the sheep flock, nestling hens among the stacked hay towers, a warm and colorful knitted hat, the coo of the pigeons nesting in the silo, the smell of coffee brewing, a comforting front porch, the melody the goat girls' bells make, the after nap stretches of a happy barn kitty. The smallest of things hold so much beautiful delight.
Dinner is simmering in the kitchen and its aroma seeps throughout every crack in the house. A tradition I have tried my hardest to hold onto, making Christmas Tamales. A born and raised Virginia girl making Mexican Tamales. I'm not sure how that even works but somehow, it pulls itself together. The house is not neat and tidy, it rarely if ever is. There are lots of muddy barn boots at every single door. Endless coats, hats, gloves and chore pants to wash. Dirty dishes galore. Christmas clutter in every corner of the room complete with paw prints that cover most of the farmhouse floor. Friends are coming to visit in the farmhouse that is not so clean but without worry we will eat and be merry, for this is truly what a holiday gathering means.

A reflection of a year passed with our share of tough experiences and some precious ones too. We've got to be thankful for them all, for it is all of them that make you - you! A fresh year ahead and lots of changes for me, it is a little terrifying and yet, a lot exciting too. It's the year of the sheep with more adventures on the horizon, a new journey for this farm with many new memories to make. Sprouting and growing and closing a new chapter. Holding on tight to hope, giving sweet thanks and of course sharing with all of you along the merry way. :)

 Happy Holidays dear friends!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

the saga of Toto lamb

I have started this blog post nearly a dozen times already, it is heavy on my heart and very near to it. And so I have pushed it aside. But recently I finished writing Toto's second book. His life has been an incredible journey to write about and so the timing to share more about Toto, is now. This little lamb, who is not very little anymore, continues to grow my heart and life in lots of different ways. There are many ups and downs with being his caretaker but with no regrets, I am blessed and beyond to be his shepherd.

Toto at 6 months
From birth, Toto's back hooves have been a struggle to figure out. I do believe as a result from his frozen start on life, the circulation is poor in his back legs which effects his hooves and mobility. I've spoken with and consulted in length with Veterinarians and other shepherds about what I can continue to do to keep Toto on his feet and comfortable. From other farmers and shepherds I have been told, it is time to let him go. Most would not have continued on this journey with him after the first week. I have been criticized for my continuous efforts in trying to remedy his feet and legs and my shepherd ethics have been heavily questioned. In all honesty, I have truly sought direction and peace on whether to even comment about that but it is part of Toto's journey and so it should be told. With no hesitation, I will also say that I am not a perfect shepherd and I am not always right. But I know with all of my heart that Toto was born in my flock for a reason. And it makes no difference whether those reasons are known to all of us or not. I do not take death lightly and every decision I have made has not been a lightly made one. I have held tightly to these words of wisdom from a Veterinarian and shepherd mentor in a short conversation we had one morning a few months ago, "Ya one knows your sheep like you do. You have sought and worked for a solution for this lamb, no one can make choices for him like you can. What I would do is not necessarily what you should do". And like so many others, he stays in touch with Toto. He wants to know the good, the bad and the ugly. Every detail, he wants to know it all and does not offer criticism or judgement. For me, this is what's real. It is not about whether I am a good shepherd, a true one, one that needs to cut losses or one that needs to toughen up. It's about a little lamb we call Toto. The balance between being what a certain society tells us we have to be and listening to words, whether constructive or not and then to simply be quiet. To earnestly discern, to look beyond the obvious and to see with the heart. I know that Toto will not always be physically with me. His life whether short or long has impacted so many and that is no small thing. The reasons he is here are probably countless ones, there is no loss to me but as long as he thrives and keeps fighting, I will fight with him.

For the Toto lovers, his 2nd book will be available for sale in September. If he could talk, this little lamb wouldn't even need me. I am honored to be his voice and his caretaker. He's a remarkable little lamb.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

a new beginning for a guardian

It is usually when I'm not looking and least expect it, that a new guardian opportunity lands in my lap. While Toto the lamb & I were visiting a school in a nearby county a few weeks ago, I was told the story of Bandit the Great Pyrenees by one of  Bandit's owners. Bandit's owners were looking for a farm type setting where he could be the dog he wanted to be. Bandit's owner and I talked for a bit and I did something I NEVER do...without seeing Bandit in his environment or even meeting him, I said I'd take him. And so we made all the necessary arrangements and a couple days later, Bandit was here. Bandit was neutered, up to date on vaccinations, walks on a leash and overall in excellent health. What a good boy!

Bandit settled in his paddock quickly and my younger guardian Willa Bee took to him instantly. Bandit's personality was a bit more antisocial with me and his energy level was high and nearly endless. He is adventurous and an explorer and it seemed only fitting that from that moment on, I call him Boone. Boone means a blessing and that I also knew he was. It was a good fit and he took to his new name as if it were the only one he had ever known. And so the task of bonding with this spirited boy began.

Even though Boone is a livestock guardian by breed, I know that not all the guardian breeds can or will be livestock guardians. For some it comes more naturally and some it takes the right circumstances and situation and lots of training and for many, it is simply out of their reach. After the first few days of working with Boone, I embraced the fact that the latter just may be his calling. Boone had some learned behaviors that made him dangerous to the livestock and to himself.

Many times guardians are confused with herders and the herding behavior can easily become a learned but very undesired behavior. It is not a natural instinct for a guardian to herd and to see them in this herding process is like watching chaos. Somewhere along the line Boone learned that herding was acceptable plus it was fun. So I knew just as soon as we were well bonded, this herding habit would be the first thing that needed to be changed.

The first day, Boone is moved to an empty paddock between the dairy goats and the ram paddock. Willa Bee calls the ram paddock home so the company of Boone next door was very welcomed by her. On that very first day, Willa Bee started teaching him to not bark at her sheep and to not chase. But Boone being a non-guided soul, doesn't hear her. When the livestock move, he would try to chase even with fencing between them. He is given supervised visits in with Willa Bee and her sheep where they can run, play and interact together. It is also an excellent teaching opportunity for Willa Bee. She is very loyal to her sheep and knows they prefer soft and quiet surroundings. So she does not romp and play around them or inside the barn, she has learned to listen to her flock and be attentive to their needs. This is true guardian behavior. So she lures Boone away from the flock where they can play..and play they do!
By now, Boone and I are like long lost friends. He comes when I call and knows he will only get head and ear scratches if he is still at my feet. He is also attentive to the tone of my voice and can hear instruction. As we relearn guarding and drop the herding, it will take unmeasurable amount of patience from all of us. Boone has the will to achieve this, he just needs some consistent guidance. And I know with his energy level, he needs this job to do or he will only continue to be destructive. So I plan and prepare to move him. One thing I love about Boone is that he has complete respect for fencing. I know if I put him in a paddock and leave him there, I will still find him there a few hours or a day later. That level of comfort I can't begin to measure or describe, especially when bringing in and training a new guardian. Good boy Boone!
Reina (on the right) has very little patience for Boone's energy level and chasing behavior. She is a powerful enforcer of the rules and consistently reminds him of his duties and place on the farm. Wise old guardians like Reina are worth their weight in gold.
 The Steer Paddock:
We have a small weaning paddock for our steers. This paddock is used to wean them from milk to grain and then from grain to grass before they're moved to the fields at the back of the farm where they will be solely grass fed. Boone is active, tough and hard-headed. And so I go with my gut and introduce Boone to the steers in the weaning paddock. The steers are used to guardian dogs so this is no new sight for them but these cows are completely new to Boone. The steers are a good match for this boy's rough and tough personality and he has complete respect for their size. He gives them their space and is attentive to their needs. It's a good fit and I have high hopes that they will get along just fine.

17 days on the farm and this boy has now been given a job. He doesn't know he's doing it yet..but in time he will. Good boy Boone!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Body Butter/Milk Soap

This 4oz body butter is milk based with my goat Eliza's fresh milk, I've also added jojoba & olive oil as well as organic shea butter. It is fragranced with phthalate free coconut fragrance oil and lime essential oil. Light, creamy and a bit exotic. If you like an island scent, this one is for you :)
4oz flip top $4 ea
*shelf life for this batch - expires 6-18-14
 This coconut, citrus, berry and
Sheep milk soap with herbs, beeswax and shea butter sprinkled throughout is absolutely one of my favorites. In the paypal drop box click on the arrow - there is also a Honeysuckle Lavender with shea, cocoa butter & beeswax available too. Both of these soaps contain beeswax which extends the life of the soap, giving you a little bit more use out of each bar but with the additional butters and plenty of milk you aren't losing any of the moisturizing properties. Both bars a fragrance/essential oil blend - the best of both worlds blended beautifully into an unforgettable soap that is ready to join you in the shower :)
6-7oz body bar $6.50ea 
available in
 Honeysuckle Lavender or Coconut Berry Citrus
*shelf life - no expiration

Click on this link to purchase milk soaps from our little online farm store:

Milk Soaps

Body butters & milk soaps are on a first come first serve basis. My scents and blends vary with the seasons and what it is available to me. If there is a particular scent you love and you see it here - get it while you can! 

*All soaps are a sheep or goat milk, olive & coconut oil base with additional butters, oils, beeswax & herbs as noted.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Lamb Called Toto

It seems all the good things in my life, started with animals. So it makes perfect sense that my first published book would star a sweet little lamb who I call Toto. This 5x7 soft covered book is 20 pages of real life colored photos and each of the first 100 copies will be signed by me. It starts from the beginning where I found Toto lying abandoned in the field on a very frozen winter's morning. A short story with simple text for beginner readers but one that will also tug at the heart of all who read it. A little lamb with a big heart and a warrior's strength to survive. 
This book is dedicated to all the little lambs I have been blessed to know and love over the years. Each one of their sweet faces are forever imprinted on my heart.
A special thank you to all of you, who have so generously supported me in my passion for shepherding. Me & Toto send our love to all ~

  Shipping available in the US only
       Books - Shipping Included

Monday, March 17, 2014

the season of Lambs & Toto

 What a lambing season it has been! Our family has been running after lambs for a solid month now - through snow, sleet, freezing wind and all hours of the day and night, lambs were being born. A total of 42 so far, with 1 ewe still left to lamb. We had 1 stillborn lamb death this season but the rest have been vibrant, thriving, beautiful little lambs!
first lamb of the season was born to our girl Babe - he's a big boy we call Barbossa

Barbossa & friends
helping a new mom in the field and warming up a cold newborn
and then there was Toto - while walking around the field at dawn one morning, I found this little nearly lifeless lamb frozen in the snow. He had been too cold to walk back up to the barn with his mom and twin sister, so he laid down and waited for me. He was tube fed for the first day and has made a miraculous recovery. He battles with poor circulation in his legs and struggles to run and jump like the other lambs but he proves to us everyday what mighty warriors these little lambs are. And so I called him Toto.

Toto's twin sister, Elsa

Toto got an X-ray and a whole lot of loving from the girls at Blackstone Animal Clinic - Tammy the Vet Tech is a shepherdess at heart too!

Kristin & Toto

Toto makes friends and receives so much love everywhere he 

Dana & Toto

our son Derek who is a shepherd in the making, helps deliver breech twins in the field.

a nursing newborn is a beautiful sight
it's not an odd thing to see a few or more lambs in the house this time of year

Toto love

Reina loves Toto too.

weighing lambs is part of raising them
lambs on a warm day

never a dull moment with a field full of these sweet faces

I have been so inspired this season by my lambs and especially by the sweet encouragement of friends and our farm supporters, that I sat down and wrote a children's book about Toto, the frozen lamb. It is currently at the printer and will be available for sale here on my blog in just a couple of weeks. What a season it has been. Cheers to lambs!

Friday, January 24, 2014

my lamb stew and whey bread

 I did not grow up eating lamb in fact, I didn't eat lamb until not that many years ago. It seems unheard of to some people because of how cute lambs are I guess..indeed they are cute. Like all animals are to me though. And if I'm not going to be vegetarian then I might as well face the facts that every piece of meat that goes into  my mouth was at one time, a cute animal. We primarily raise animals for milking but there are the few that need culling for one reason or the other and so instead of sending them off to a livestock market somewhere where their treatment and destiny is unknown, we choose to process them. So in a short amount of time, we've learned to not only appreciate our food and all the particulars of where it comes from - we have also grown to love lamb. In experimenting with different ways to cook it, this is one of our favorites.

Lamb Stew:

  • chopped onion (I used leaks today - I will add the green part of the chive when I add the potatoes)
  • 2 TBS of olive oil

  • 1lb of lamb stew meat or cut up lamb roast (you could also substitute with ground lamb)

*saute in your cast iron kettle until lamb is browned and then add:

  • 2 peeled/chopped carrots
  • 1 chopped celery stalk
  • 1/2 cup red wine (or your favorite wine - I used elderberry today. 1/4 cup of wine for your kettle and a 1/4 cup for you!)

*cook until wine is reduced and add:

  • 1 1/2 TBS dill (or more if you LOVE dill)
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp parsley (or other herbs of your choice - I add whatever I have fresh at the time too)
  • 1 gallon of water & beef stock combo

*simmer for about an hour. Then add:

  • 6 peeled/diced potatoes
  • 2 cups of lima beans (optional - I add them if I have them)
  • salt & pepper to taste

*simmer for another hour or 2, until potatoes are cooked well and the lamb is soft and shreddable.

bread rising while the stew is simmering

Then add:
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup flour
*mix your milk & flour together in a bowl, whip well until smooth and then add to your stew. Simmer stew until thick and bubbly. YUM!
lamb stew
And if the bread has you intrigued - the recipe that I used for this batch is from the More-With-Less cookbook. I'm a whey lover, so I always save whey from my cheesemaking to put into breads - if the recipe calls for milk or water, I simply substitute with whey. Besides the added health benefits of using whey and another way to reduce waste, it also adds a tarter bite to the bread and depending on the recipe a little firmer texture..and I actually like those differences. And did you know that if your whey gets mold growing on the top, you can simply scrape it off and use it just like you would when it was fresh! I've kept it months and months in the fridge without it spoiling. Me and whey are close friends.
the smell of bread baking should be bottled and sold..
 White Bread:
4 loaves

  • 2 pkg of dry in yeast in 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
Combine in large mixer bowl:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 T salt
  • 1/4 cup lard
  • 3 cups water (I used whey here)
  • yeast mixture
  • 5 cups flour
(It says beat with electric mixer - which I do not own - I mix all my bread by hand)
  • Stir in by hand:
  • 5-6 cups flour
Turn onto floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning once, cover and let rise 1/2 hour. Punch down, turn over and let rise again until double. Knead a few minutes, then shape into laves and place in greased 9x5 loaf pans. Cover loaves with damp cloth and let rise until doubled. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Brush tops with butter. (Recipe courtesy of Louetta Hurst, Lancaster PA)
my loaves are never perfectly shaped but thankfully that doesn't make a difference in how it tastes :)


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

the season of snow

sunrise before the storm
the farm is quiet as the storm moves in
Nothing has made me appreciate the weather more than it has since I have been a farmer. And the weather this winter has been so unpredictable for me - the day before this snow hit we were a pretty cozy 60 degrees. The drastic temperature changes are especially hard on the animals.

coming home from work that afternoon the snow has arrived. Reina is always waiting for me and making sure I get back home safe. Even in the snow, she runs to greet me.
it's Barbossa the lamb's first snow (and proof that apparently these ewes are having nightly flings with the rams that I know nothing about! Barbossa was a surprise.)
soaking up sunshine
a few of the chickens found a sunny spot next to a hay bale
time to thaw out another frozen watering bucket
Keeping the water thawed and the livestock warm, well and fed is the daily goal. And quite often, that takes all day. As beautiful as the snow in winter is, it's also exhausting. The nights are long and every ounce of sunshine is accounted for and not wasted. Winter here on the farm is not only the season of snow but it is also the season of accountability. What we planned and prepared for and what we did not, will show in one way or the other. There are plenty of winter weeks ahead of us but even with the extremely cold temps, the farm is peaceful and all is well. We are thankful.

tradition: when it snows, the guardians and the chickens get warm oatmeal

Willa Bee gets breakfast in bed

The winter tree is fast asleep, she dreams in reams of snow knee deep, of children climbing up her trunk, of white-tailed deer and gray chipmunk, of picnics, hammocks and short sleeves, and leaves and leaves and leaves and leaves.          Douglas Florian

 ~sending toasty warm thoughts to you all.