Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Years!

Knitting socks, watching bowl games and having a little vino,
a perfect New Years Eve for me!

Monday, December 28, 2009

An Old Fashioned Christmas

Family arrived from Nebraska, along with more wintry weather - a combination of snow, sleet, and rain. Branches iced up, lights flickered, and the power went out. This is a common occurrence around here, so we were well prepared. A kerosene heater and lanterns, lots of candles everywhere, a gas stove to cook, plenty of great food and wine on hand, and we were set. Games came out, books to read, wool to spin, how could anyone be bored? As the evening settled upon us, we were entertained by music in the parlor, which included piano, guitar, violin, french horn, baritone, and lots of singing. I don't think the kids even missed their video games or TV.Day two, with the house getting chillier, we decided it was time to bring out the generator. It won't run the whole house, so we switched back and forth between the furnace, refrigerators, and freezers. We even lit up the Christmas tree. Christmas morning, and we were back to full power, which was certainly nice. The novelty wears off in a hurry when you're in need of a showerSeveral more inches of snow on Christmas Day, and it was a wintry wonderland. Belle & I took a little walk on the road.

The ewes come up to the fence to greet us,
hoping for an afternoon snack.

Beautiful Emily in her full fleece.
Happy Holidays from Red Brick Road Farm!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Seed Catalogues

If you haven't received your Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalogue for 2010, go online and order it right away! It's free, but there's a very limited supply. The cover doesn't look like much, but just wait until you look inside. Gorgeous photos (bursting with flavor) and such a wonderful selection of seeds. I order from them every year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The comfort of sheep

I love the holidays -cooking, decorating, yet, no matter what the situation, it is always a stressful time of year. There are so many expectations, mostly unrealistic. It's times like this when I especially love venturing out to the barn after dinner. Even though the temp is near zero, I can't resist the allure of a cozy barnful of sheep. I don my coveralls, hat, mits, and head out. Belle, our great pyr is always the first to greet me, my demanding polar bear of a girl. The ewes are all well fed, snug, and for the most part, settled in for the night. I find a comfy spot to sit, and it's the yearling ewes that come up first for a visit. My loveliest F girl, Fionna settles in at my side, tail a-wagging, and along comes several others of the same "rank". Ewe lambs, the G girls hang back, waiting their turn. My older girls, secure in their position, don't always seek me out, though Charlotte always comes up for a pet. Comfort & Joy, this is it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ready or not...

Winter is here!! Our first storm of the season blew through this week, bringing us freezing rain, sleet, heavy snow, and wind chills of 20 below zero! My Shetland sheepdogs long to go out and romp in it.
They are in and out, in and out throughout the day. The windows in our old farmhouse, each a frosty masterpiece.Rams and ewes have been separated, which will make winter chores much easier. We had 6 separate pens, and we're down to three. These little rammies will be going to the butcher soon.
I hate the thought of that,
but just how many rams does a person need?

Two year old Elodie and her daughter Fionna,
two of my most easy going girls.Handsome FableHappy Deidra Fuzzy Belle
It's amazing how well the outdoor animals adapt to such weather swings. As long as there is plenty to eat and drink, and a warm bed of straw, everyone is content and settled in
for the long winter ahead.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Boys will be boys...

Breeding groups were put together in mid October. We used 4 different rams this year. The one thing they all have in common, is that they are very mild mannered around people, no matter what time of year. They get along amongst themselves most of the time too. Icelandic sheep are seasonal breeders. The hormones get fired up in the fall, ewes start cycling, and the rams are ready to fight for dominance! Grady is the only ram lamb we are using from this year's crop. His breeding group was penned next to Finn's, who is a yearling. Neither are full grown, so they don't do a lot of damage to the fencing/gates yet. They did some head butting through the fence at first. Now, they just ignore each other for the most part. Echo has a group next to Finn as well. At the start, hey did some ramming through the fence. Two year old Echo has more weight and experience, so he never did end up with battle scars like Finn. Echo is a gentleman, and eats peacefully with his girls. They all seem to be settled, now, so he spends a lot of time pacing the fenceline. He knows there is a non-breeding group of ewe lambs in the barnyard! Fable is the fourth ram with ewes. He had just a small group for a short time. It would be nice to have some more mouflons in our flock.Finn's battle scars are healing up well, and his girls seem settled. We weren't planning on breeding any ewe lambs this year. Grady had other ideas. He broke out twice into the barnyard. Dates are recorded, and I'll have to keep a close eye on those naughty little girls!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

Today is the day we look back on the year, giving thanks for the bountiful harvest, friends, family, animals, a wonderful home and a busy life doing the things we love. We are truly blessed. Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 30, 2009


I put Charlotte in with her breeding group yesterday. Since she had triplets this spring, I was thinking about giving her a year off. Well, maybe not. She produces such nice lambs. Needless to say, she was NOT PLEASED about the situation! Can you see her glaring at me? She is one of those ewes who is very particular about their ram, and she wasn't thrilled with young Grady! they immediately began bashing heads, but he quickly put her in her place, though she easily outweighed him by 75 pounds or more! She's a big ewe. She didn't like the ram I chose for her for 2007 lambs, and she remained open. This morning when I went out to feed, she came right up to me to show me there was a problem. She somehow managed to rip out her eartag! Was she that desperate to get out of that pen? She knew I had the camera, so kept pestering me. "Look at my poor ear! I'm in so much pain! Please let me go back with the ewe lambs in the barn! I don't like Grady!"
Charlotte, I think you'll be fine...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Promoting your farm

I have been giving presentations about our farm/sheep for the last few years. We've had many groups out to our place to visit, and I've gone to several schools, nursing homes, etc. to talk about our wonderful Icelandic sheep. When I was contacted to do a presentation for a Chicago spinning guild retreat, I decided it was time to do something a little more professional. So, these past two weeks I've been engulfed in putting together my Icelandic Sheep PowerPoint presentation. I also designed new labels for our products. It has been great fun. I love putting together brochures, business cards, etc. Graphic design was my profession, well, before children and sheep! Thank you to Gretl for the invite, and to the Fox Valley Knitters Guild for being such a wonderful, laid back, and gracious group of knitters! You nearly bought me out! Thank you, thank you! and of course to my faithful and tolerant husband, for his technical support and enduring trust. I'm sure he had no idea what was in store for him when he bought me my first Icelandic sheep for my 40Th birthday seven years ago! It's been quite a trip!

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Compleat Squash

We devote a large section of our garden to winter squash every year. They truly are, one of the most beautiful and useful things in the garden. "The Compleat Squash" is a must have book for any pumpkin or squash devotee. Gorgeous photos and recipes, too. I spend many a cold winters eve paging through the book, making my wish list for summer planting.
What other vegetable has such a variety of color,
sizes and shapes?
When a hard frost is expected, we go out and load the pickup with squash. The less mature ones get tossed in to the sheep paddock. The sheep adore them, and the seeds are said to be a natural dewormer. The chickens love them too, and they get their fair share. We set a few around the doorsteps, and the rest go into the basement .
With proper storage, some will keep for over a year!
During the winter, we enjoy pies, breads, muffins, souffles. I occasionally toss a few out to the sheep for a mid-winters treat. Can you tell, we love squash?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Shearing Day!

The autumn wool harvest is one of the most anticipated events on the farm. The October wool clip tells the story of a years hard work. Icelandic sheep are typically shorn twice per year, with the fall shearing being the most valuable. Days spent grazing on lush pastures keeps the wool clean and fresh, compared to winters spent at the manger eating hay. The sheep are breathtakingly beautiful in the fall. I take as many photos as I can. I almost wish I didn't have to shear them. I make frequent stops at the grocery store, picking up boxes for the fleeces.

The sheep go into the barn the night before, off feed and water. With the Icelandic's huge rumen, shearing on a full stomach makes them incredibly uncomfortable (think about bending over to tie your shoes after a huge Thanksgiving meal). The shearing station remains clean as well. Our shearer David Kier arrived, followed by a number of friends, some who helped and others that watched. We had 12 people here, so it was a great help, and shearing went so smoothly. Two friends captured the reluctant sheep, Randy my husband brought them out to David, who sheared. He is so calm and gentle with the sheep. He takes his time with our small flock, yet each sheep is finished in under 3 minutes.
The sheep barely realize what has happened. David skirts out the belly wool as he shears. I scoop up the warm fleeces as he finishes,as another friend shoos the sheep out of the barn, and another sweeps the board clean, and the whole process begins again. As he shears, I quickly lay out the previous fleece on a skirting table. The wool is fragrant, full of lanolin and life. I love the smell. Second cuts fall out, I pull out any contaminated parts, then push each beautiful fleece into a separate box, labeled with the date and the name of the sheep. These fleeces go into the Wool House, and will be fully skirted this winter. Then I'm ready for the next fleece. The day goes by too quickly.
We are finished! I prepared a big meal for post shearing. I made the mousaka recipe from the October issue of Saveur. It was everything I hoped for. Also some fresh bread, corn from the garden, and a nice Syrah. Then, apple pie with apples from our orchard and coffee. It was a fun and relaxing meal, full of laughter and sheep talk. David has has many years of sheep experience, which he graciously (and modestly) shares. I so enjoy him, his grace and vast wisdom. A good shearer is priceless!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ride Bikes, Save the Earth

A young couple, Becky and Darren, contacted us earlier this summer. They were riding their bikes across the U.S., stopping at small family farms along the way, wondering if they could visit us. They had a website and blog, and guess what? They were acrobats for Cirque de Soleil!!!! I wondered what they would think of our little farm. They finally arrived on Saturday afternoon. What a fascinating couple, and some of the best house guests one could ask for. We wandered around, looking at the old farm buildings, gardens and animals. Even though they had traveled the world, they were more interested in talking and learning about us! They filmed their visit, and may do some sort of documentary. After a dinner on the deck of lamb stew, Becky was eager to learn to spin. We started out with spindles, then moved to spinning on the wheel. We all laughed and talked late into the evening. They were up early Sunday morning, ready for the day.
I didn't envy them at all, and their ride through Chicago.
You can read their "mission statement" here.
Here's what they looked like in costume
when they performed in the Cirque de Soleil KA show: