I have a big fibre project on the go (really I just started planning it) it is a really long term project that involves a lot of different fibre crafts. To get the ball rolling, I washed a kilo of fleece from Eli. Now it needs to be carded before I can start to spin. To card this much wool with a set of hand carders would take a very long time…hours of carding every evening for weeks. Luckily, I have recently (within a year or two of the current day anyway) bought myself a drum carder and wool picker set. A drum carder is a nasty looking contraption that cards huge amounts of fibre in one go, simply by turning the handle (well…there is a bit more to it than that).
First I need to run the wool through the picker. This is a chute with nails sticking out in all directions inside it. The wool is passed through the chute and is pulled apart and fluffed up in the process. This breaks off any brittle bits, catches most of the short cuts (little lumps of fleece that are too short to spin) and shakes out some of the vegetable matter.
Next I take tiny bits of the fluffy fleece and pass it through the drum carder, being careful to only put in small amounts at a time. During this I use a brush to push the fleece down onto the drum so I can fit a lot of fleece into the batt (a batt is a big mat of prepared fibre for spinning).
Lastly, I break the circle of fibre on the drum and slowly peel the batt off. I can either put this batt back through to get a smoother finish (or add some other colours to it) or I can go straight to spinning it.
The drum carder does make it easier to process large lumps of fleece into spinnable batts, but the end product is not as smooth and easy to spin as when I card with the hand carders. The fibre choice probably makes a difference to the outcome as well. This new bit of equipment has helped me process the fleece to yarn more quickly, so has been worth the money (they are fairly expensive), but I think the hand carders will win out for fine fibre or special projects.
Recently we had the sheep shorn for the year. A lovely man from a local town came out and did the job for us; after the year we tried shearing them with kitchen scissors, we decided the money is well spent. He bought his own equipment and was quick and efficient, we will be using him again I think.
Eli came out of the experience looking sorry and thin. We have been trying to fatten him up a bit, but it appears his age and breeding mean that he needs a huge amount of feed to get any weight on him at all. The current cost of feed and the fact that we have to pay so much for it means that our ability to fatten him up is limited, but we will keep trying.
Eli’s fleece is lovely and long. He has quite a bit of crimp in the locks, but the wool isn’t particularly fine. There is also a lot of vegetation in the fleece (chaff and stray mostly), but I will have a go at spinning it, because I’m excited about using our own wool.
Even though processing some of Eli’s fleece cost me an extra bucket of water, I’m glad I tried it. It is a deeply satisfying experience to process your own fleece; especially when it is donated by a family member. I think I will try to spin enough to make a beanie for the people who raised Eli, they might like it as a keepsake.
Now I am wondering how Frieda’s fleece will process. This drought had better end soon; I need to wash a lot of fleece.
Last week we had another family crisis; Sid, our wether, had another kidney stone block his urethra. He tried to jump a fence one morning (after possibly being chased by feral dogs) and probably dislodged a large stone in his bladder. We took him to the vet as he looked very uncomfortable. The vet said she would try to remove the stone, but she wasn’t very hopeful. We said our goodbyes that evening, just in case.
Our wonderful vet managed to dislodge the stone and push it back to the bladder, but it was blocked again the next morning. We had to make the decision to end his suffering as another operation was not likely to be successful. When he had the operation we knew he may only have a few months left to live and we tried to make those months enjoyable. He has lived a good life with us; full of friends, food and fun (which is all sheep care about).
I will miss my friend; the sound of him calling out to me when I got home always made my day. I will miss his social nature, that made him come over to meet every visitor with a friendly face. Sid was a calming influence in our sheep herd and always friendly. The other sheep will miss him too; they called for him for a few days after he went to the vet for the last time, and they are still subdued and quiet.
Because the ground is so dry and hard at the moment, we decided to have Sid cremated and plant him in a large pot with a fruit tree. We have planted many smaller family members this way and it is a good way to honour a life. Sid will become a dwarf mandarin tree and we will continue to care for him and remember him.
Even though we only knew him for four years, Sid was a part of our diverse family and he will be missed.
Our newest sheepish family member; Eli, is the most easy going sheep I know. He is quiet and loves a cuddle or an ear scratch. He is also not too concerned about getting wet. Even though we are officially in drought, we have had a recent fortnight of drizzle and damp (but not significant rain), during that time we noticed that Eli does not run for the shelter when water starts to fall from the sky like the other sheep. We can use the sheep herd as an indicator of rain by the way they come close to the shelter about half an hour before rain starts to fall, but not Eli. He will stand in the rain, unconcerned; because of this we began to worry about him having damp wool, damp wool can lead to skin problems and sometimes fly strike (in Spring and Summer), it also takes days of warm weather to dry out a full fleece. Fungus thrives in damp wool and can actually kill a sheep fairly quickly.
We tried building him his own shelter…he refused to stay under it. We tried locking him in a sheltered place…he broke out. Our next option is to buy him a raincoat. He is not enjoying the experience of wearing a raincoat at all, so we have decided to only make him wear it when it is threatening rain (it should last a long time). We think he looks very handsome and it is a relief not to have to worry about him standing in freezing drizzle all night.
We are still trying to get a shearer out here who can shear his belly and head. In Spring we will get all the sheep shorn, but for now we would like to reduce Eli’s chances of getting fly strike.
It really makes me think about all those sheep in really cold, wet weather who live in paddocks with no shelter and who are shorn at the beginning of winter. I wouldn’t like to sleep outside on the cold ground in the rain, even with a really good jacket. Sheep and cattle are mammals, just like us, so it makes sense that they have much the same physical needs as us when it comes to cold and heat.
This is another behind-the-times post; Freida has been living with the sheep herd for about two months now. After Eli joined the family, she bonded closely to him and they both began to explore the outside world.
At first they both slept in a tent in the back yard and ran around with the big sheep through the day. After a few weeks we began to leave the gate to their tent open at night so they could choose where to sleep. Now they live full time with the herd.
We still lock Freida and Eli up for the morning feed as the other sheep can be very pushy and will chase them off. This way we know they will get at least one good feed in the day.
Freida has become a very smart and calm sheep, which is something of a relief; we thought she may have trouble learning to be a sheep after the start she had.
She is still as loved as ever, but now she is able to fullfil her biological needs without getting in trouble (at least not much trouble).
In all the rush and confusion around the start of the year I forgot to introduce our newest family member; Eli. We adopted him as a friend for Frieda, and our way of encouraging her to realise she is a sheep, not some kind of mish mash of human, dog and rabbit.
The full story;
Just before the end of the year (I can’t be precise here, I didn’t write down the date), I was walking past a group of Mums at school (the regular afternoon chat session, which I love to join, time permitting) when one of the lovely Mums called out to ask me if I wanted another sheep. I , of course, said yes (automatic response I’m afraid) then thought I should ask some pertinent questions. The back story was; a friend of this Mum had raised a lamb in the house (the same as Freida), he was a wether and had been a pet for her two year old son. She wanted to re-home him as he was being aggressive to the little boy. Sheep can become very pushy with those they see as below them in the social order. I thought twice about getting an aggressive sheep as they can be a big problem, but decided in the end to give him a go as we were desperate to find a friend for Freida since our old ewe Ma had sadly died from pneumonia. In order to get Freida to join the sheep herd, she first had to come to terms with the fact that she is a sheep.
I picked him up one day after work when the original Mum bought him to school in the back of her car. he was ensconced in a pile of hay in the back part of her four wheel drive with a collar and lead on. We woman handled him into the back of my car, a job which went very smoothly as he was eager to do whatever we wanted. His name was Eli and he was some kind of wool bearing sheep (i.e. not a shedding sheep or a hair sheep like the rest of my herd). He rode home in happy silence and jumped out of the car to meet Freida when she came barreling out of the humpy to see what was going on. They sniffed each other and got down to the business of finding grass to eat, they have been inseparable ever since. The house he came from was a very animal friendly one and it showed in his general nature.
Eli is polite and calm, he is as trusting as it is possible for a sheep to be and allows us to do anything with him (obviously having never been hurt). He has shown no aggressive tendencies here (probably because we have no two year old humans in the herd) and has bonded to Freida well.
He enjoys sitting in the sun, eating (anything really) and having his ears scratched. He has developed a real love of corn flakes (we give him a handful as a treat sometimes) and chaff.
Eli is a Dorset/merino cross, which means he has wool in some inconvenient places (like his belly and legs). He has been tail docked when he was a lamb, this procedure is essential in wool breed sheep as the underside of their tails are wool covered and, after a week or two, very poop covered. We will be getting him crutched (where the belly, legs and bottom bits are shorn on a roughly six monthly basis) as soon as we can get the shearer out here.
He has given us a huge amount of freedom as he has become Freida’s company and he will give me some beautiful fleece to spin as well. He has also given us the privilege of getting to know him.
I have been using soap nuts to wash our clothes for a while now. I am really happy with the results; it cleans the clothes, takes out the sweat smells without adding any other scent and removes most of the stains. I also don’t have to rinse, therefore saving 50% of the washing time and water. I wanted to transfer those benefits to washing/scouring fleece for spinning, so I went googling of course (when did ‘googling’ become a verb?). There was only one reference to using soap nuts to wash fleece (that I could find anyway); Sheep Cabana blog. The post says to use them in place of the usual squirt of detergent. Another adventure begins.
I have MANY bags of fleece to spin. I always seem to collect more than I can comfortably spin in a year, even though I promise myself I won’t get any more until I spin what I have. Recently I looked at Eli (Freida’s companion, and best friend now) and saw that he has a good long fleece, all ready for a spring shearing. He is a Merino/Dorset cross, which means his fleece is fairly strong with a good crimp, but it should be soft enough for socks and gloves.
Spring is only three months away, and with the spring comes usable fleeces from my sheep. I am setting myself a challenge; to clear some of the fleece piled in my craft room to make room for them. Usually, I wash, card and spin small, manageable lots. This time I’m trying my hand at bulk processing; I will wash a lot of fleece, then card or comb a lot of fleece, and finally spin, ply and wash a lot of yarn.
First, the washing;
Scouring fleece is a matter of simply making a fairly hot bath with detergent of some kind (in this case; soap nuts) and soaking the fleece in it. I use lingerie washing bags to hold my fleece because it makes fishing the soaked fleece out so much easier and I can just hang the whole bag on the line to dry. The trick is to avoid felting the fleece; I don’t agitate it at all, just push it under the water and I try not to change the temperature of the water quickly. This fleece took two soaks in the soap nut solution to come clean (it was a very greasy fleece), but it did come clean. After it is soaked, I throw the bags into the spinner of the washing machine and spin out the excess water. The bags are then hung on the line to dry.
The soap nut/fleece scouring experiment is a success. I can now wash piles of fleece using soap nuts and not have to feel guilty about releasing all that detergent into my environment. I would definitely recommend using soap nuts for washing clothes and/or fleece.
A few months ago, around Midsummer, we had a medical emergency among the sheep. I haven’t blogged about much from that period of time until now because of a series of hard-to-deal-with events. First my father was diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer and died shortly afterwards (not the best start to the year), then I had to have some abdominal surgery which slowed me down considerably. Our old dog Spot had to be put to sleep during this period too. To top that all off, we had to evacuate our humpy because of a bushfire threat to the area and we lost two of our sheep to an unknown predator in the bush.
During the week after I came out of hospital (on strict orders to stay in bed), Sid; our wether (and companion to Shaun in the past) began to act as if he had colic. I rang the vet and was advised to keep him walking and get him to drink water. So despite having a very painful stomach and being depressed I spent many hours following the poor boy and keeping him moving and drinking for two days (my partner and daughter took many shifts also). On the second day I drove over to a nearby town to get some pain killer for him (against doctors orders, but we do what we have to), I injected him, but it seemed to have little effect. On the third morning we decided to take him to the vet, so my daughter and partner got my little car ready to cart a full grown sheep (tarp on the floor and bedding towels) then we all spent an hour catching Sid and moving him into the car. We had to lift him in, which did not make my stomach happy at all, and he had no fight in him at all once he was in the car.
My daughter and I drove to the vet surgery, a trip of two hours, and unloaded poor Sid into their yards. He was in so much pain he didn’t seem to care what happened to him. After a few hours and many examinations, the wonderful vet discovered that he had a bladder stone and had not urinated for two days (I felt so bad about trying to make him drink). She gave us the option of putting him down as the operation to fix this is very dangerous and the recovery is long and involves a lot of nursing (oh and expensive). I just couldn’t imagine life at the humpy without Sid; his single minded attention to getting his food, his demands for a chin scratch and his afternoon greetings to my partner when he came home from work (to the tune of pleas for more food). We decided to give him a chance at surviving and said go ahead.
We went home then and left him to be operated on. The vet rang much later that day to say he had survived the operation but she had been forced to put in a stint to drain urine. Sid had to stay in hospital for a further two weeks, before coming home to be nursed by my daughter and I.
This is where the sex change comes in; the stint bypasses the urethra and penis altogether and exits the body in roughly the same place as it does in female sheep. Sid now pees like a cat; the urine squirts out in a stream behind him. We try not to stand behind him in good clothes these days.
Sheep and goats of the male persuasion seem to be prone to bladder stones if they have a high grain diet. We did not know this previously and had fed poor Sid many grain based meals in the past. He has been confined to hay and chaff since the operation though. Apparently he is very likely to suffer from this again so we keep a close eye on him to be sure he is peeing.
His post operative care consisted of bathing the operation wound twice a day to remove built up urine dribble, putting paw paw ointment on the existing rain scald and spraying pink stuff around (but not on) the wound to discourage flies. In the middle of his recovery we had to evacuate the animals to my Mum’s place because of a bush fire. This set back his recovery a lot because of the stress of moving and because he and his friends escaped their pen and decided to walk home. They made it to my uncles house and had to be collected from there. Eventually the scabs dropped off and the wound healed, and now we only inspect and wash the site about once a week. We still watch him closely to be sure he is peeing though.
The vet seems to think he will last another two years, we hope he does, we love our Sid. Our main concern now is making sure he has a good life in the time he has left. He is living with the rest of the sheep herd (sheep are very social and need constant companionship), and seems to be enjoying life again.
For my next adventure into rare and/or old breed wool I decided to give Icelandic a spin (pun intended). I bought about 200g from a lovely lady on Facebook, it arrived as a neat little plait of combed roving with a picture and some breed information on the label. The skein smelled delightfully of sheep; warm, earthy and somehow mouth watering (the artist in this article had the same reaction to the smell of Icelandic wool).
The good old Vikings seem to have really loved their sheep and took them everywhere they went. It seems that once they landed in Iceland they had very little contact with the wider world (the sheep not the Vikings, they went on to conquer other countries and found more sheep breeds) and the breed has remained ‘unimproved’. The Icelandic is known as the oldest and ‘purest’ breed of sheep because cross breeding has been banned in Iceland for many generations, keeping the genetics the same as they have been for the past 1100 years (except for naturally occurring mutations of course).
The tops in my little plait is a mix of both inner and outer coat (or tog and thel if you prefer) making my yarn a lopi type yarn. Lopi yarn is made by blending both layers of Icelandic fleece together and lightly spinning them to produce a soft, airy but long wearing yarn. The yarn I produced is not particularly loose-spun, I tend to make firmly twisted yarns, but it did blend into a lovely uniform grey and is fairly soft.
I decided to card the tops again to blend the colours together a little more
The rolags are very springy and soft
Icelandic spins up into a hairy yarn. I did try to spin with less twist, but my instinct is to add more
I plyed my yarn loosely and ended up with a lovely soft grey yarn
I did discover that Icelandic wool felts very easily; I carried my plait of tops around with me to various locations while I was spinning and it seems that rubbing up against the plastic bag felted some bits of the outside. The felting carded out…thankfully, but it did remind me to be extra careful when washing my finished yarn.
I don’t know whether to sell my yarn on my stall or…
I don’t do Christmas, not being a Christian and believing that the symbols traditional at this time of year are all wrong (who needs solar symbols and the promise of life returning when life is in it’s baking prime outside the door). Instead I have a few ‘recharge’ days. As I do every year, I planned a quiet couple of days without people around. My partner and daughter went off to visit family (the other daughter had to work) and settled in to finish an assignment and have a well deserved break from humanity. Well that was not to be… first Nut (one of my sheep) came in not long after being let out looking sick, so I put her in an old aviary in a straw nest and called the vet. The vet advised me to give her electrolytes, worm her again and call back after Christmas (the vet version of take an asprin and call me in the morning). I had no injectable electrolyte so I made an arrangement to get one of my sisters to pick some up on the way to my parents house. With that all arranged I checked on Nut and found her standing up and hungry, so I got her some food. Meanwhile Shaun and Sid were trying to break into the aviary to get the food so I put them out to graze and went back to study.
Nut and my daughter’s butt.
It wasn’t until I had lunch that I noticed I hadn’t heard Shaun for a while, I went out and called him…no answer. I looked in all his hiding places…no Shaun. Worried now I decided to check Nut and go for a longer walk. I found Nut had died’ still standing with a mouth full of sheep pellets. As you can imagine, I was shocked and dismayed. I said my goodbyes and ushered her soul to the afterlife (as is my ritual) then went looking for Shaun. I searched the entire area around our humpy with no luck, calling myself hoarse and crying in worry and grief. I rang my partner and daughters to tell them what had happened, and tearful conversations followed. Eventually my sister showed up with the medical supplies.
Shaun as a young lamb
Good naturedly wearing a tutu and wings
Begging for rice crackers
My sister and I continued to search for a few hours, re-covering ground I had already searched, but no luck. I was beginning to lose hope now. My heart broke then, losing both Nut and Shaun in one day was too much to take, Eventually I went inside and did the usual evening chores and went to bed, only to toss and turn all night with dreams of him returning. The next morning (Christmas day) I got up early and dug a HUGE hole and buried Nut. Some advice here; dead sheep are heavy, I eventually got the wheelbarrow out and struggled her into it. Sid, very worried about Shaun escorted the hearse to the grave site and stood with his head down beside the grave like a well trained mourner until I had filled the hole half full of soil (and my strength gave out). The rest of the day was filled with searching and calling and tears, for both Sid and I. In the evening my mother called and invited me to tea, feeling that I needed a distraction I gathered up a bottle of wine and went. I came home just after dark (fairly late at this time of year) and did the night time things; feeding animals, bringing babies and old folks inside for the night, then staggered off to bed (remember the wine). About an hour later I heard Shaun’s sweet voice calling at the front gate, having dreamed this the night before I couldn’t quite believe I was awake (remember the wine), but I got up and checked anyway. There he was demanding to be let in, I let him into the house, checked him for injuries and got him some food. He was very hungry and thirsty and appeared to have had a bath, but otherwise he was fine. That’s when it occurred to me I might still be dreaming. I rang my partner (who luckily was still up) and told him that Shaun was back, but I could still be dreaming, he said send him a photo as proof and that would tell us one way or the other. I did that and he confirmed it was Shaun, we were both relieved and happy to see him. It wasn’t until much later it occurred to me that he would have responded that way if I were dreaming too (remember the wine). I decided that if he was still here in the morning , he was real and off to bed I went.
The photo I sent to Kev’ for confirmation
He was still there the next morning and is now under house arrest until further notice. I still haven’t finished my assignment (due in a few days) and have had no break from people at all, but what I thought was tragedy has now turned into an interesting story and I have Shaun back. As for why Nut died…in my rambles around the paddock I found some nibbled mushrooms and sheep do love to get high. I am guessing that she ate some bad mushrooms and they stopped her heart. I will miss my old friend deeply.