Monday, December 28, 2015

looking back at 2015

With a pot of soap on the kitchen stove, newborn lambs and their mom to check in on and kiddos on holiday vacation from school to herd around the farm..and here I sit down to write. After all, if I kept waiting for a better, less busy time to blog..I would likely never write again!

Our fall and winter season has been the busiest on the farm, since..I can't remember when. We switched things up this past year and had 2 separate lambings - 1 in February and 1 in June. The goal was to keep the milk on the farm flowing longer while also keeping up the yield too! But with 2 lambings, I burnt out. And quick.
shaving udders

bottle lambs in the house

tube feeding weak lambs

 I ended up bottle feeding lambs for a better part of the year and also had trouble with fly strike in our summer lamb crop, something we never face with our winter born lambs. The newly freshened summer ewes also experienced more lactation issues in the hot weather then in the cold..they then ate less and produced less. On the plus side, we sheared twice. We called in our first professional shearer who took over the 2nd shearing, while the hubby and I did the first shearing early in the year. Fleeces were thick this year and we had lots of yarn and roving that yielded from their fleeces. This was the first ever year that we sheared 2 separate times. These dairy girls sure can kick it out! Overall I'm proud of them. As their shepherd and as the profit and loss manager - they're prolific producers in several ways and I'm proud.
pro shearer - man was he FAST

charcoal and ecru yarn from my woollies

youngest daughter Holly helping package roving and wool dryer balls
 From their milk, we had raw sheep milk and cheese shares. Thousands of pounds of milk yielded plenty of raw milk cheese for shareholders.
Spanish Queso



We also attended a couple different farmer's market while sealing in a booth space mid summer at The Farmer's Market at St Stephen's on Grove Ave in Richmond. Besides the other producers who attend this market with us - feeling next to family, it has proved to all around be a wonderful market for my milk soaps and fiber. We can be found there year around - the 2nd, 4th and 5th Saturdays of every month. I never expected my milk soaps to take off the way they have, I sure am thankful. At the end of every year I total up the quantity of bars from the year and this has been my biggest year to date, with thousands of handcrafted sheep milk bars heading off the farm and into homes world wide. The family pitches in when and where they can but for the most part, I'm a one woman show. And that's alright by me.
Fiber at the Farmer's Market

Milk Soaps - Farmer's Market

Felted milk soaps
 I took in several rescue Pyrs again this year - last year I also took in several and those were all successfully adopted out. This years Pyrs are all still here and working. It's a daily thing. Full of ups and downs. But we're hanging in there and the guardians are hanging in with us. I've always felt a big responsibility for dogs in particular. And with that constant thought in mind, at times it does feel like a Great Pyrenees farm around here too. I no more lightly take on a Pyr and think, I will get them trained and adopted out in no time. I somewhat remember the days when I used to think a bit that way. Boy have I learned! The rehabilitation, bonding and retraining is a mountainous amount of work. I used to wonder why those that take on this role are so few and far between..I no longer wonder. It's a calling however and I heed it as best I'm able.
2 new Pyrs on their way to Cedar Springs Farm & Dairy

new Pyrs on the farm
 December through February is usually my down time. Time to dig out the spinning wheel, write and catch up on other duties that have been put on the back burner through the busy February through November season. Usually is something I say a lot around here..
soft neck garlic from my 2015 garden

This winter is proving to not at all be like the last. With record amounts of rain and warm weather, it still feels like fall here. I have actually had trouble getting my winter garden in - the garlic, sugarcane and onion harvest will be late, late, late next year. One thing that farming has for sure taught me, you can make all the plans you want but until you seal the deal, they're just ideas. You gotta just go with it and see where it takes ya and not stress about it all in the meantime. It can zap your joy if you let it. Speaking of joy, on Christmas day twin lambs were born to a first time mom - right out in the big field near the wood's edge behind the farmhouse. It sure was a sweet sight..and surprise. I knew she was coming along and her due date was approaching soon, there is another ewe too that got bred when a ram plowed through a fence earlier this summer. But I wasn't expecting these lambs in December. So in a sense we have had 3 separate lambings this year. No wonder I'm tired!

December lamb


We also sold the most meat lambs we've had on the farm yet, this year. And they also brought in the highest prices we've experienced yet as well. Our late spring and early summer live weight for lambs is hard to beat and even surpasses our restaurant and market by the pound sales. That I never imagined happening. We had a good lamb crop this year and that sure helps makes things feel like they're working. When we have a bad week or a bad month, it helps a bunch to go back and look at the progress. The big picture is a grand one.

It takes all kinds of farmers to make this world go around. Things change yearly and sometimes monthly on this little sheep farm..but it gets done. It's a way of life that teaches me continuously how to adapt and how life isn't at all about staying the same. It's not the destination at all, it's that beautiful ole journey along the way.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

an afternoon on the farm

We recently had the honor of having a photo shoot on the farm. The photographer, Ariel Skelley did an incredibly beautiful job of capturing our life with pictures. The hubby and our three not so little kiddos anymore, joined me in the shoot. What memories were forever made that day. Here's a bit of the story it tells~

Monday, September 14, 2015

Daya girl - Part 2

For those of you who have been following Daya's progress or are just interested in rehabilitation or maybe you just love dogs. Here is her newest update and a bit of my heart put into words.

Taking in dogs isn't really that complicated. It takes patience, the major kind and it's tough sometimes - I know I've said it many times before and I know I will continue to say it many more times. It challenges me, sometimes on a daily basis but not because it's complicated. And this is not a popularity thing. I know it is so hard for these dog owners to be on their last resort by contacting me and then even taking the next step and handing these dogs over. And even harder to read my assessments - that first post is always the toughest to read for everyone. And I know this, not just because of the feedback I receive because I sure do get that. But that's still not it, I know it because I know what it is like to fail. Giving up a dog that you paid money for, loved and tried hard to make it work and then giving it up, feels like failure. Perhaps it even is failure, that's not my call and not what I'm here to do. But the response from most of the families that call on me for assessments or help of any kind with their dogs, is almost always a defensive one. I get it and I honestly understand. I am not a master at this and make no claims, I have learned through my lifetime and still am learning. I came about to learn what I have, through my own mistakes. There is always a price attached to a lesson, we pay one way or the other. So I get it. The dogs however are incredibly eager to please and the most forgiving of any animal I've known yet. Perhaps this is why I feel such a close bond with dogs. They get us and don't hold it against us. They inspire me to be a better human. These posts are in no way about the past owners or the past of anything and I try my best to make that clear. It's possibly hard to read or hear for many and that's ok. I am not doing this for popularity or for recognition, I am not looking for approval nor do I need it. I am simply here for these dogs and will continue to speak here for them. As it is my only desire in doing so, for their hearts be heard. 
Sisters - Wren J & Daya girl

When the dogs first come here, they're usually confined to a small paddock where their behavior can be assessed. Most often the parameters of that paddock are challenged. They dig, try to climb. Sometimes they bite, they're angry especially if they've been roaming free and now can not. They're angry over everything and acting out is expected. Dogs are routine animals and change is usually hard for them. So to be confined somewhat here, teaches them and me so much. It's necessary for them to also realize again that they're dogs. Most often they've lost themselves somewhere along their life and they don't know who they are or what they wanna do or be anymore. All who have come here, have had no jobs. They've just existed. They've had families at one time or another. All have experienced love and loss. They may have bounced around and had many families or they may have just had one. Many have been backyard ornaments or they've been a neighborhood nuisance and have even wound up in kill shelters. But it is not a bad thing at all for them to find out who they are. It is what we all want and need in life - it is no different for a dog. I call them my pawed or fur friends, I have all sorts of names I refer to them as. But still they are without a doubt, dogs. And it is in no way demeaning for them to discover who they are and to be referred to as dogs. Dogs here are treated like every other living soul and it is a great thing to be a dog. I nurture independence and pride in the dogs. For them to find who they are in the process and for them to be confident in that. A confident, well loved and appreciated dog that knows who they are, is an adaptable, teachable and loyal companion. Not just to humans but to other animals too. It's getting back down to the basics and really discovering who the dogs are, as a human and dog team.

Daya has been here about 2 months now and has quickly gained nearly 20 pounds. An excellent quality diet is needed for her activity level and good food very much makes her happy! We are learning together who she is. She has bonded tightly with me and recognizes me as a sister. This is a goal for all the guardians that come here. Great Pyrenees have a distinct disposition, all breeds are so different. But Pyrs, I have found need to be their own masters. They need to be nurtured and guided into discovering who they are. It takes immeasurable patience and time. This is true livestock guardian training and it often takes a year or even more often years, for them to be confident in that. Daya is coming around to knowing this rather quickly. Daya is unusual. She is active but has a calm, confident spirit. She is learning to be adaptable and learning to love other animals. She was quickly won over by humans but other animals has really stretched her. She has taken a liking to the sheep and this tells me much. Not everybody gets sheep but Daya does, as do I. Relating to Daya as to how she relates to the sheep flock, and the girl quickly blossoms. Forcing Daya to do anything or using trickery, treats or any type of verbal or physical correction will not work with Daya. She needs a heart connection and she needs to visually see you interacting with the livestock and other animals, as she would. This needs to be demonstrated and related to her in her own language. Her spirit is a beautiful thing to watch. The way she carries herself, her watchful eyes and her attentive mind. She doesn't miss a thing around here. Daya is one of the exceptions, she will be one of the fiercest and most attentive guardians who has ever worked here. I have not yet decided if Daya will remain here on our farm with us or if she will eventually be adopted out to guard another flock for a farm in need. She is however learning that her home lies within her so whether she stays here or moves on, she will never forget who she is. 
Daya girl
A beautiful journey it is, to love a dog ~

Sunday, August 23, 2015

sheep milk & butter

I heard a bold and also quite debatable statement recently and at the farmer's market of all places. And it challenged me.  Now those of us who have livestock even the the dairy type, are naturally going to think their animals are the best on the earth. Of course we all do, we believe in what we are raising and doing. We are passionate about that and so it just comes out as we sing the praises of our herds and flocks. But what I heard wasn't just praise, it felt like a very misunderstood concept.
Now I'm not going to say anything about who this person was or what all was said but the gist of it was, goat milk is higher in fat than most milks including sheep and so the products made with goats milk would also then be higher in fat. And it was said to me. 
Now everyone who knows me well, knows I have both sheep and goats. And that I milk them both daily. Now I most definitely don't know everything but I do have some book knowledge about the 2 and their differences and maybe even more importantly, I also have it hands on. I do make a variety of cheeses and drink both milks on a daily basis. And at all different times. For instance, straight from the udder, a few days in the fridge and 2 weeks in the fridge and all times in between. Milk changes. As we all know, milk will not taste the same a couple of months later in the fridge as it did the day we put it in the there. Lots of variables in milk and many factors and the milk changes. Feed, where in lactation the girl in milk is at - beginning, middle or near the end. So many things to consider when talking about milk. And that's not even getting into the taste or the solids. 
About the butterfat, I do know it varies between the breeds of goats and my breed of goats are on the lower end of the butterfat list. But without a fancy chemistry test I also know first hand that a larger quantity of milk a lactating animal produces, the lower the fat in that milk. And most often the smaller the quantity, the higher the fat. In general, sheep produce less milk than a goat and definitely a cow. Lambs grow at a high rate of speed, if y'all follow our farm on Facebook during lambing season, y'all also watch first hand how rapidly the lambs grow in such a short amount of time. That my friends, is butterfat. Most sheep generally lactate a smaller quantity of milk and so the the nutrition is naturally in concentrate form to keep up with the lambs. Many lambs are ready for weaning at just about a month of age. If they go on nursing past this point, you will find lambs to continue growing rapidly. By the time our lambs are 3-4 months of age, if they're still drinking their mother's milk, the lambs are nearly full grown. That kind of growth takes an incredible amount of nutrition and fat. Our goats in no way can keep up with that level of growth. Which does not mean I don't love my goats and think they're the best goats in the world..because of course I do! But I also know that sheep milk speaks for itself and someone can make as many claims as they'd like but the facts look me in the face each and every day and that simply can't be argued with. 
All milk rocks but sheep milk, it hits the over the fence, home run.

This morn I whipped up a batch of sheep milk butter for a pan of friend apples. Here's my butter tutorial and this time I'm starting from the finish line to the beginning so scroll on down to the bottom and work your way up. Cheers to fresh milk folks!

The end.
When the butter begins to melt, that's my favorite part!

Adding the butter to my skillet of apples.

From less than a half gallon of sheep milk, I got almost a 1/2 cup of butter and a full cup of buttermilk and I still left a little cream in my milk. If I wasn't planning to be using the butter right away, I would rinse the butter in ice cold water as I squeezed out as much liquid as I could from the butter with my spatula. I would do so several times. It chills the butter quickly and removing as much liquid from the butter will preserve it longer in the refrigerator. But if I plan to use the butter immediately, I skip that step. The buttermilk and remaining butter will be going into tonight's cornbread supper and the milk goes back into the fridge - still tasty, it just lost a little fat.

Getting creamy.

I set a strainer on top of a pyrex measuring cup and pour the entire mixer's contents into a strainer. The butter milk runs through the strainer into the pyrex as I take a small spatula and squeeze out the excess milk out of the butter which really creams it up.

Once I see plainly the butter and milk separation which almost resembles cottage cheese, we're ready for the next step.

You can see here the milk is now thick and taking form, we're almost done.

As it mixes and blends, you will see the milk changing. The butter is beginning to separate.

Once you scoop as much cream off the top of the milk as you can, begin mixing it on a regular blend setting.

I prefer using older milk that has been sitting in the refrigerator for awhile, which allows the cream to collect at the top of the container. And it needs to not be homogenized so there is a cream layer at the top, this is why fresh milk is important. If you don't have access to fresh milk you can also just easily use regular pasteurized heavy cream from the store. But regular pasteurized/homogenized milk from the store will not do because the cream has already been removed. The milk I used here was 10 days old, perfect for me. Ladling the cream off the top and into a mini processor. A blender works beautifully too, I just don't have own one. So a mini processor it is.

Monday, August 3, 2015


So this will be a post like none I've ever posted before. Rarely do I blog of my children - who are now nearly 21, 18 and 14. The 2 oldest I consider grown, even though most of the time they still live at home here on the farm. I am one of those mothers that is guilty of hoovering. I mother 24/7, I don't believe I even know how to turn it off. I don't care how old they get, I will always be involved in their lives. I have always talked deeply and honestly with my kiddos. It has always been of high importance in our home. And so this time, I will not post about the farm and its critters and not even really about my kiddos. Not only will this post be photo less but it will also be super personal because even though I will speak of them, it is in whole and transparently about me.

I grew up pretty conservative Mennonite. Homemade dresses without a lot of fancy embellishments because simple and plain was heavily stressed. For all the rest was considered worldly and the church we were in at the time taught heavily about being separated from the world, in every way. From the very beginning of my life, I remember sitting countless hours on old wooden church pews between my siblings. I am almost certain that every time the church doors were open, our family was there. I'm a middle child, born smack between 3 brothers and 1 sister. My sister and I were the closest in age, I was the younger. She did all the things girly older sisters tend to, sew, cook and from my perspective she was mom's shadow. Mercy how I hated all those inside things. And being the spirited little sassy woman that I was, I made it known as much as I could get by with. So most of the time, my chores were the outside ones. Tending to the garden which always seemed like a thousand acre field to me as a youngster. And caring for the chickens, the cows when we had them, pigs, horses, dogs and cats. At times we had turkeys, at times we had rabbits. I believe most of the livestock animals my dad raised while I was growing up was raised for food - in one way or the other. Until I was about 13 and my dad got my sister and I a couple of horses. To have livestock animals I knew I could get attached to that would not end up on the dinner table at any given moment is a time in my childhood that stands out vividly and beautifully in my mind. I adored my dad for that.

I was told often I was rebellious and outspoken and without a doubt for the environment I was growing up in, I definitely was! But there were also many things I did not speak up about..things that seemed intrusive, repetitive, suppressed and sometimes in my young mind, wrong. Times were different then too. Anything said or thought that wasn't exactly the perspective of everyone else wasn't exactly allowed. And it was punishable. And I think I had a million thoughts that all seemed to be different. Now this is not at all a slam against the way my family parented, they did what they knew how. For this was too, how they grew up. This was our normal and that was ok. But me, I was just different.

By age 17, I was engaged. To a boy that was not accepted in our church, or my family. And at 18, I married that boy. A year later we had a baby boy of our own. And from that day on, I wanted to raise my children differently. Before the internet, before I ever heard of support groups. I set out to do some of the opposite of my upbringing. I am proud of my Mennonite heritage, so incredibly honored to have the parents I did, blessed in more ways than I can even begin to write down. All of it has made me who I am. But still I longed for a different style of life for my own family and that young boy I married became my anchor for change.

Throughout my kid's childhood, I found out that fulfilling those desires of change wasn't going to be as easy as I thought it would be. But anything worth doing rarely is. We attended quite a few different churches and denominations through the years that our children were growing up in. I desired for them to be cultured and not just religious. I wanted for them to be able to freely make choices of what they wanted to wear, of how they wanted to cut their hair and if the girls wanted to wear blue eye shadow or blue jeans they would freely be able to choose that. I wanted them to be able to dance, to listen to whatever music they liked, to sing loudly and even off key, I wanted them to be friends with whomever they chose, to be real, to be free to change and most of all, to sincerely be whoever they are. To just be themselves. Individuals. By teaching them that, I felt I was also teaching them to respect others as individuals too. Regardless of any and all differences.

Now looking back, if I have not succeeded at anything else in my life. I have at least succeeded at that.

Our oldest daughter who has always, always been a strong willed free spirit is openly in a gay relationship. This brilliant, beautiful 18 year old girl with the world at her finger tips has a girlfriend. This will likely feel like a bomb going off for many who know us. So shocking to family members and to some friends in our lives too. And by some of these, our daughter has been and will be set apart and judged. An instant sad, disappointment this beautiful soul now is to some people that she has known and loved dearly her entire life. But this part of the post will not be about all of that. Or about morality or immorality and however to whomever that conclusion has been made. This is merely about me. A mother. A daughter, a sister and an aunt, a cousin, a niece and a friend. All the people that I am and the one thing that has so heavily been laid on my heart through this journey mothering our children is how people treat each other. Strong intentions are rapidly handed out. Negative feelings affecting all involved - the giver, the receiver and all the bystanders. Which tends to spread like a wildfire. Under the microscope we put each other and the gossip, slander and hatred is fueled. Divided we fall and at an unmeasurable cost. To a mother, I see our oldest daughter and I think wow, she is amazing. The strength and courage she possesses is astounding, her faith and her immediate family ground her, she works so hard and is fiercely competitive in her duties. She loves without blinders, she cares and is kind when others do not and are not. I see a flamboyant, vibrant woman being exactly who she is

I suppose it looks like my journey in this part of life may be just beginning but certainly this is one thing that young, independent and sassy little girl was being prepared for all those years ago. So the beginning or the end it is not. Now rising above the muck isn't always done gracefully especially when a child is involved. There have admittingly been many frustrated, angry, terrified and unbelievably quiet moments on this journey for me and I'm sure there will be more to come. But more often then not, I am reminded what an incredible gift life is and how grateful I am for every mile on the journey of it. It truly does make us who we are and never are we through being molded into an amazing, individual piece of artwork. Freely and lovingly I was created and freely and lovingly I will live.

PS. This little blog covers a lot of territory and is read by thousands. Life is too short for anything other than compassion so if you feel led to post a comment please do so compassionately - icky comments will be swiftly and kindly deleted.   

Monday, July 27, 2015

the guardian journey continues

The weekend before last, I took on another livestock guardian dog. This girl is yet another, Great Pyrenees. I will not go into her history, much about how the dogs respond to me and the world around them is really all the info that needs to be told.

Every guardian that comes here, starts with a clean slate. For them to move on, the past must be forgotten. They are given new names and a new start on life, I often reference it to being reborn. I get calls & emails often with Pyrs that are needing to be rehomed. Most by families that saw this precious little white fluffy puppy and thought they just had to have it. Puppies grow up. Little fluffy pups become big high maintenance dogs with breed specific personalities and families are quickly overwhelmed. And a Pyr is a breed all of its own. All breeds truly are. None are just like the other. I can't say I look forward to these calls or emails but with no doubt, I know it's a responsibility. I willingly take it because I am capable and because these dogs deserve another chance. This is in no way about me. This is about them. And I blog and post about it as much as I can because these dogs, they need their voices to be heard. To relearn is an incredible amount of work for each and every one of them.

The day we picked up this girl, the hubby and I both were bit multiple times. Fearful and not easily comforted, she would lash out and refused to be touched or handled in any way. She did not enjoy the company of other dogs or livestock. She preferred solitude and being completely solo, as everything else seemed to sorely tick her off. Angry, afraid and underweight. She was not happy about anything. But she would chow down at meal time and was not picky about anything I put in her bowl. So my new girl is easily bribed with food - and I have found my little light in a long dark tunnel. The first few days I likely fed her a hundred treats. No exaggeration. I must be able to handle this girl if we are ever going to be successful. She is not spayed so my next concern is getting her vetted but first..I must be able to handle her. This priority was weighing heavy on my mind. So I fed her. A lot. By about the 5th day, she began taking a treat from my hand before retreating to finish it off by herself. HUGE progress and my heart smiled. But still I could not touch her without being bit. That first week, I was bit more times then I could count but never did I speak harshly to her or react whenever I was bitten. It is never fun to be bit. And it takes complete control over your own emotions in a circumstance like this and for me to react would be to completely undo everything we had been working on up until this point. So I must remain calm and go on. She has no connection with me and so to correct her now would only alienate her even more. There may come a time that I may have to let her know, that biting is not what we do. Time will tell. But the time is most definitely not now. And with this girl, I am hopeful that by offering her a new perspective and change, it will also change that harsh reactive behavior. After all, if I expect her to not react, I must show her that I too will not harshly react.

By this time, I have also decided to give my young Pyr pup, Wren J free run of the new girl's paddock. It seemed to me this new girl needed some company and to know that not all company is bad. She would not willingly choose to be around another dog, so my Wren J willingly chose to be around her. Wren J is a jolly, free spirit. She rolls on her belly in front of the new girl and completely submits to her every snarl and stare. Good girl Wren J. It's a good first fit and so some socializing begins. 

At day 6, 7 and 8. I continue my efforts to win the new girl's trust. The snapping slows and by day 8, I am not able to touch her head but I am able to rub her belly as she stands near me. Daily I sit in with the new girl and Wren J, I hand out treats and rubs where ever I am able. And Wren J shows the new girl how loving and dependable the shepherd is. It doesn't matter if it's raining or one hundred degrees or if the sun isn't even up just yet, the shepherd is there. I have found a dog loves consistency and can be taught so much through it. So here I am on day 9, sitting in the same spot with tasty treats and the same hands offering love to whoever is ready for it. The new girl without skipping a beat, comes in under my hand. So I without skipping a beat begin softly massaging, no stroking motions just yet. I do not lift my hand away, my fingers are kept at the same amount of pressure as I massage for a good amount of time. She lays her head on my lap and with her chest touching my thigh, I can feel her heat beating. She was calm and relaxed. I pulled my hand away and she nudged me with her nose, to continue.
 So I began stroking her thick burly mane. As I ran my hand over her collar, she turned quickly and looked dead straight into my eyes. Her collar an obvious sensitive point on her body. By this time, my cheeks were soaked with tears, I was completely vulnerable and all hers. Wren J knows my heart well, this isn't the first or the last time she will see her shepherd vulnerable or crying. So the big silly floppy girl steps over, sits at my feet and begins gently licking each and every salty tear until there was more Wren J slobber on my face then anything else. Wren J's compassion also offered some loving interference. And another milestone was made.
The new girl settled in a little closer to my side. I put my arm around her, stroking her belly, her back, her neck and chest. Her fear released, her anger was gone and she melted right into my arms. A sweet and willing surrender. We still have much to do and much to learn but a long way this girl has come in 9 days. This girl did come with a name but I have renamed her Daya, which is a reminder to us both to take this new journey, one day at a time. 

So big ole world, meet my new brown eyed love, Daya girl.