We put the rams in on October 26, 2014. This was one week earlier than my comfort zone, but I was leaving the next day for a two week trip to Seattle and California, so I decided to push the limits. Sure enough, Mother Nature showed me a thing or two and the first lambs this year were born out in the field in so much snow that I couldn’t get the truck or 4 wheeler out there so slowly trudged my way out to congratulate the mothers and tag the lambs on paths that the cattle and sheep had made. We didn’t lose any due to weather, and I was grateful that at least part of the flock (those who need shearing or first-time moms that I need to keep an eye on) were close up by the barn.  The lambing percentage this year is truly amazing. Lambing percentage is number of lambs divided by number of ewes. Including the ewe lambs (who rarely have more than one but this year we have two successful twin mothers) they’re hitting the ground at 200%. Among the mature ewes, singles are less common than triplets this year. I don’t really have a good explanation other than to think they went into breeding season in good shape, the winter wasn’t super hard on them, and Craig kept them well fed with hay all winter. So, although I’ll be happy when the last 19 ewes have lambed and I can spend some more time cleaning my house (a shepherdess’ house gets pretty grundgy during lambing time!) it has been a very happy lambing time and I am grateful.

The cattle are dong fine, too. Although all winter Craig unrolls round bales out in the fields for the cattle and sheep, this time of year he puts the cattle hay in round bale feeders so they won’t damage the fields so much. I think they kind of like this lazy way of eating. Cows aren’t due to start calving until mid-summer and they still have their big calves from August with them.

Well, that’s the news from the farm



Here Comes the Sun, and I say, “It’s all right!” Happy New Year!

We cut the ties with the grid in the summer. There’s been a lot of opportunity for learning since then. What I have found most gratifying is that I’ve become more aware of what’s happening out there everyday; I simply pay more attention! At first, I got glum about cloudy days, like having the generator run was some sort of failure on my part. But now I am just more accepting and embracing of what the sun is offering. We could have more batteries in our bank to try to store up more solar power for cloudy days, but I have come to believe that our system is sized well, and that when the generator needs to run–as it has a couple of hours daily during the recent cloudy spell here in December–it isn’t using a whole lot of LP to charge up the batteries. And, of course, we adjust our activities to the sun. On a cloudy day, I sweep. On a sunny day, I vacuum and wash clothes. The needs of our animals predominate. If it’s a cloudy day and Craig needs to plug in the tractor to be able to feed hay, he’s going to do it. We were fearful that the tractor heater would put too much of a demand on the solar but it’s no more than running the well pump, which is a steady need for providing water to the sheep and cattle.

A friend asked me, “Why did you go off-grid rather than grid-tied? Isn’t there an anti-social element in that?” I have to admit that my decision to leave the grid (even though the cost was perhaps double what a grid-tied system would have cost) was a gut-type decision. I simply wanted this farm to run on our own solar-supplied sun power. Some folks have asked me about “payback period” and my answer is that the payback is the gratification that I feel during my lifetime and in what I am leaving for my children.

So, besides the solar, it was a good year here on the farm. Lambs came early (they started coming out on the snow while I was in Seattle in February–bless you, Craig!) because of some escapee Icelandic ram lambs late last summer, and calves came late, because our beloved bull Fuzzy Bear lost his virility and we had to call in a replacement bull. But it all works out. We had enough lamb to supply our direct customers and the fantastic (can’t say enough good about this place!) Driftless Cafe, and even though our beef customers were limited to a 1/4, we had beef for all of them. We didn’t have enough meat to justify going to the Farmers Market full-time and had to quit providing lamb to the local coop, but that’s just the way it had to be. The goal on this farm is to produce as much as the land–the sun?–provides.

2014 also brought the goat and chicken presence into play more noticeably here on the farm. The chickens have been with us quite a while but the flock grew as our egg consumption declined so in 2014 I developed an egg market in Viroqua. Now I make enough from egg sales to pay for our own eggs, and to feed Henry’s emu, Ollie, and the six ducks I’ve acquired. Maybe the ducks will provide eggs to sell, but until then it’s just because I love ducks. Good thing only one of the four does bred because goat milking takes some getting used to. Troubles, the doe who freshened in April, provided me and Craig with yoghurt and chevre for many months, along with fresh milk for a child who can’t drink cow’s milk, and one kid went to the conventional market in Fenimore and one’s in the freezer (curried goat shanks for tomorrow night’s supper). Next year, maybe four goats wil freshen; that will be a new chapter!

Another positive 2014 development was that I found a fantastic tannery for our lambskins. Bucks County Fur Products in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. They do a great job. As far as other woolly things, I thought, for a brief time, that I might want to get out of raising wool sheep because it was hard to find a good shearer and I just couldn’t keep up with burdock control on the pastures, but I’ve decided that if I take it slow enough I can shear my own darn wool sheep and also, taking it slow enough, control the burdock. I just can’t give up having wool sheep.

It was a good year. Craig never seems to waiver in his ability/stamina to do the big stuff (making sure we have enough wood, growing lots of vegetables for us, feeding the critters hay and dealing with waterers that freeze when the temps get too low) but I’m a bit wimpier. My winter chores are taking care of the poultry, milking the goat and giving grain to lambs and calves. It got icey in November and I found myself floundering about and clinging to fences as I went about my chores. Then I bought some clamp-on ice grips for my boots (Nelson Agri-Center in Viroqua) and now I can go out on any surface and do my chores.I really recommend these things. Buy the “professional” type that has a strap that goes over your boot.

Life is good. Thank you to all who buy my beef, lamb, and wool products! Happy New Year to all my farm friends! I find that many people are interested in our solar and think that it would be fun to have a solar open house sometime. Maybe in late February? Let me know if you would be interested in coming out for a visit then.

The Joy of the Clean House

I hosted a little gathering today. A weavers’ gathering. I’m not much of a weaver yet….I always get side-tracked by my knitting projects….but I enjoy getting together with these real weavers and I hosted the December gathering. Not many came because the roads were icy, but I enjoyed welcoming them into my home…..because it was CLEAN.

Now, I don’t feel like I live in filth or squalor and we don’t tend to have much clutter since it’s just me and Craig, but I don’t give regular attention to cleaning beyond regular sweeping and the occasional moppping, so when I do a “deep cleaning”–by that I mean paying attention to ALL surfaces–it takes time (like one day per room) and the result is really noticeable, and pleasureable.

Which leads me to wonder…..if I get so much joy out of having a sparkly clean house, why don’t I clean more often? There seems to be a seasonality to my cleaning. It’s before and after pasture season. Right now is clearly the “after”, although the sheep haven’t acknowledged this. Craig has been unrolling round bales out in the fields for well over a week and plopping them into the bale feeders in the corral so that the cattle get comfortable coming in there in anticipation of the big early winter cattle handling day (tomorrow hopefully), but although the cattle appreciate the hay, the ewe flock still mostly grazes since the snow hasn’t been deep. Spring cleaning? I realize that I do this between maple syrup season and lambing time. Summer is a time that the house gets ignored. Newton the Corgi is the only one who spends time in the living room in the summer. So that by the time I do my early winter deep cleaning, the crevices in the couch are filled with Corgi hair!

Well, here’s to house cleaning. I highly recommend it. Seasonally, so it is fully appreciated!

Farming and Living Off-the-Grid

(Handsome) son Henry with his array

(Handsome) son Henry with his array

I’m 64 years old. A few years back–I don’t even remember what the “new” thing was…something about my Ipad perhaps?–I recall saying to my son Henry, “I don’t like learning new things.” Somehow, when you get a little older, you seem to want things easy, smooth, predictable, and with little chance of triggering anxiety. Any of you “older” folks able to relate to that? Or, maybe, it’s just an extension of my temperament, that desire to have everything under control at all times.

So, this said, why the heck did we go solar? And, beyond grid-tied solar, why did we go “cut the ties with the power company” battery-stored solar? On sunny days–I call them “wash lots of clothes, vacuum, and run the food dehydrator” days–I don’t ask myself this question. The state of charge of the batteries gets up to 100% before noon, and I shift into a get-er-done/use that sun mode and wash, vacuum, bake, dehydrate to my heart’s content.

But, today was cloudy and rainy and the weather forecast says we’re going to have more days of the same. The state of charge was only somewhere in the 60% range when I was last down to check and every once in awhile I open the door to hear if the generator is kicking in, as programmed, when we get down to 50%. Yes, it’s a bit stressful yet. We are still new to the off-the-grid life, haven’t gotten the well guy to come and install the new “soft-start” pump I bought, and we’re watchful that the system doesn’t throw a fault because the generator (impacted by the high demand of the well when it goes on to meet the needs of drinking livestock) provides excess power.

We had a “situation” last weekend. We had a contingent of delightful Islamic Indian folks here on the farm celebrating a festival–which meant using more lights than usual and a meat saw in the garage–and suddenly the place went black. We had overdrawn the power and the power center shut off to protect the batteries, since the generator didn’t kick in as it should have. The good learning experience for me was that the power center is ready to protect the batteries. Everything was worked out.

I’m confident that we’ll work out the kinks. But, still, the question remains…..why did I do this? Subject myself to learning a new way of thinking about power usage (friend Roger Bertsch said, “You have to realize that you’re your own power company now, Bonnie”) when I’m at a time in my ife when I just want everything to be mellow?

Because it’s just so gratifying to be producing our own power almost all of the time. To think that we are pumping the water for the animals and humans, electrifying the fences, cooking the food, dehydrating the food, keeping food frozen or refridgerated, running this computer, on the power of the sun! I’m willing to adapt on cloudy days, to worry a bit as we get the last kinks worked out in the system. I’m willing….yes, I’m willing….to learn new things!

Lamb and Beef, 2014

Ram lambs on October pasture

Ram lambs on October pasture

The “snow lambs” were a hardy bunch and grew well on this summer’s bountiful pastures. We had a butchering of ram lambs in September and will have another in mid-November. Ewe lambs that aren’t being saved for replacement stock will likely be butchered in March and May.

Because the requests for both Pine Knob beef and lamb have been growing faster than expansion of the beef herd and the ewe flock–in recovery from the heavy culling that was necessary with the drought of 2012–we’ve been not able to fully meet demand this year. We did not take on any new beef customers; we did not sell beef retail; and even returning customers who wanted more only got 1/4s. In 2015, we ought to be able to meet the needs of current beef customers and in 2016, we should have beef for a few more.

The 2014 lamb crop should be sufficient to meet the needs of current customers and a few new ones. We have, with regrets, quit offering our lamb through the Viroqua Food Coop. Customers who have been used to purchasing lamb through the coop should feel welcome to contact us to see if we have the cuts they need. I deliver to Viroqua on Fridays.

I am nothing short of thrilled that our lamb is regularly on the menu of the Driftless Cafe in Viroqua. Owner Luke Zahm is a delight to work with; I’ve never before imagined feeling so appreciated as a farmer! And the ways he and his crew prepare my lamb are so fantastic that they have me going in there, looking for lamb on the menu! Bless you, Driftless Cafe, for you are truly a boon to the Driftless region.

So, let me know if you want lamb, and we’ll see if we can meet your needs. Beef, too. Although, at this point I can’t promise much more for 2015, I am on the lookout for beef feeders that meet my specifications, and will do the best I can to meet my customers’ needs for good grassfed beef.

Fall on the Farm

First calf of the year

First calf of the year

Fall calves this year! I noticed last summer that Fuzzy Bear, our Devon bull, was rebreeding the cows and sure enough when we preg checked it became clear that we needed to bring in another bull. I think Fuzzy injured himself going through the fence that my neighbor has weakened numerous times by cutting it to get her straying horses back in. Sigh. At least she kept her pack of dogs from attacking my sheep this year, and the fence issue has been turned over to the town chairman. I hated to see Fuzzy go for he was a wonderful bull–built like a rhinoceros but calm, even a little shy.

The temporary replacement bull was an Angus but there’s not a solid black calf out there! Except for some that are all brown, they are varied in their markings and are a very vigorous group. Almost all heifers, which is just fine for growing the herd and being ready to replace cows as they get older.

Fall calves get left on the cows all winter, which is a practice that I have gravitated towards over the years anyway. I used to wean spring-born calves and give them grain with their hay through the winter (and this year I will separate out the 5 early-born calves I purchased and give them organic oats for I feel they need that little bit extra and less competition for hay) but, more and more, I’ve seen that allowing natural weaning is a benefit to the calf. Since my cows have a lot of hardy Hereford blood in them and generous hay through the winter they never seem to lose condition before the next year’s calving. I’ve also not had any problems with last year’s calves getting the milk that’s meant for a newborn; I think the cows are just too smart and tough to allow that to happen.

I have a new Devon for the 2015 calves. He came as “R17” and I’m calling him “Rudy.” He looks good and appears to be doing his job. He’s not quite as shy as Fuzzy was, always seems to be checking out what’s going on, so I’m always checking on his whereabouts, too!

Lambing on Snow!

We didn’t plan it this way, but many of the ewes were bred by adventuresome wandering Icelandic ram lambs last fall and are lambing out in the hay Craig feeds them on pasture. It’s working out fine! Possibly because of the hardiness of the Icelandic breed, our only death losses have been during extreme cold (-25) or ewes with bag issues. Just goes to show there’s always something new to learn in raising sheep. I always thought that lambs born in March had to go in pens in the barn. Now I see that if they’re the right type of lambs, it’s a lot healthier for them out in the sunshine.

Lambs ready!

Whole lambs are for sale at $285, half lambs for $150. A whole lamb is around 38# of packaged meat, just enough to stuff the freezer compartment of a refrigerator. For either a whole or a 1/2 lamb, I will take your cutting instructions and convey them to the butcher. Since my next two lamb butchering appointments are with Black Earth Meats which is a distance from most of my Viroqua area customers, I’m also planning on picking up the frozen lamb cuts and delivering them.

These are very nice lambs. They are the first out of our Texel and Charolais rams, Tex and Charlie, and I am very pleased with them. Our ewes are primarily Katahdins, chosen because they are the hardiest, most amenable to organic management. The Texel and Charolais rams have brought the genetics needed for nice sized lamb chops.

Organic sheep raising is not easy, but it’s healthier for the sheep, the land, and the consumer. I’ve been raising sheep for over 30 years. Always looking for ways to improve, but this is about as good as it gets, folks!

Grassfed? When there is pasture–and on this farm it’s a long grazing season–April 1-mid-November–where ewes and lambs get all the lush pasture they want. But in the winter when lambs come off pasture, they are provided organic oats and milo along with their hay, to ensure they have all the energy they need for winter finishing.

Call–608-624-5714–or email at wfam@mwt.net to order a whole or half lamb.

Nora’s Sweater

I just finished this Aran sweater for my granddaughter Nora. Our Shetland/Rambouillet yarn is perfect for Aran knitting. Still plenty available of white and the two shades of brown–some grey, also. It’s 3-ply worsted and the skeins are around 250 yards, 7-8 ounces. We’re selling it for $3.50/ounce. This pattern is by Kathryn Ashley-Wright of Ewetopia in Viroqua.



Fall Farm News

The solar panels are soaking up the energy and generating electricity! Henry has the array, power center and batteries connected and solar is now powering the fencer and barn lights. Next step is to connect the house and we’ll cut our ties to the power company and be providing all our own power. This is … Continue reading