Category Archives: Reduce, reuse, recycle

Sheep of another Fiber

„TribuT“ by Jean Luc Cornec

My sister-in-law sent me a screenshot of these critters and I was so amazed!  I have an actual flock of sheep of a similar population.  And, I’ve been going through belongings trying to declutter and pare down on possessions and came across the rotary phone I received as a teenager – bright red.

I would imagine, as with roll down windows in a car, most of today’s youngsters would have no idea what to do with these phones.

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Filed under Family and friends, Fiber Arts, Reduce, reuse, recycle, Sheep

Sheep Handling Facility

Sounds fancy, doesn’t it?  I’m so excited!  I mentioned in an earlier post that this was in the works and I finally got it completed and ran the sheep through it yesterday.

Here are some pictures and then I will describe what it is and how it works:

My sheep are not so tame that I can simply walk up to them and work with them.  I have to contain them in some way in order to give vaccinations, dose with wormers, weight them, check their body condition score, etc.

In the past, I hauled hog panels out to the pasture and created an enclosure where I worked with them.  This was time consuming, tough on my back and not very efficient.  As I mentioned in a blog post this March (Getting Organized…Hopefully…Yes!), I had the brainstorm to carve a small sheep handling area out of a corner of the barn.  I included some pictures of the construction in a May blog post (Update on Organizing).

I may someday invest in gates and chutes made specifically for the purpose, but for now, I’m happy to try out this low cost option and see how it works, tweak it if necessary and save a lot of time over my old method while also keeping my sheep much more comfortable and reducing their stress.

I used hog panels and lumber already on hand.  I did all of the construction myself, but also need to give my husband Chris a big thank-you for the custom channels he fabricated for me on the table saw and planer.  I cut hog panels to 24″ width and they lift and lower beautifully (guillotine like) in these channels to allow one sheep at a time to move forward toward the enclosure with the scale.

During the test run yesterday, I weighed each sheep, wormed her with garlic juice, checked her body condition (all except the yearlings are a little on the pudgy side) and checked her eyelids using the Famacha method to get a sense of parasite load.

The facility worked great!  It seemed to be intuitive for them.  They moved through with ease.  In the past, I have had trouble getting each sheep to step up onto the scale because the surface is different and they are concerned about their footing.  But, in this arrangement, they see that by moving forward, they are moving closer to exiting the chute and so they stepped up for their turn without any trepidation.

The chute is a bit wide.  18″ is recommended, but my scale is 20″ and the hog panels have verticals on 8″ centers, so I had to go with a 24″ wide gate.  Because the chute is a little too wide, the sheep were able to turn around and squeeze past one another.  But, I was able to easily advance one sheep at a time with the guillotine lift gates.  And, with repeated runs through the chute each time we “practice” with subsequent uses of the chute for shearing, vaccinating, etc. my flock will become more accustomed to it.

What a wonderful thing to have checked off my ‘get organized’ to do list!

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Filed under Farm, Getting Organized, Livestock Handling, Reduce, reuse, recycle, Sheep

Getting Organized…Hopefully…Yes!

This late winter/early spring has been sort of a perfect storm of get organized messages for me.

First, I moved everything out of my office in order for Chris and I to install new cork flooring there to cover up the rough attic planking that exists there.  I have vowed to go through everything and only put back what I truly need.  Now, this is a major hurdle because I am very likely to look at everything and think I might find a use for it someday.  I have, however, recycled a huge stack of paper, designated a bunch of useful stuff to go to St. Vinnies and found deserving homes for several other items.  Some things were beyond any useful life and did wind up in the trash.  And, a few pounds of dust bunnies were removed before the new floor went in.  Later this week or early next week I will begin the slow process of cleaning each item and setting it in a well thought out location in my refurbished office space.

In the meantime, I attended the MOSES Organic Conference in La Crosse, WI.  With my radar set to organize mode, I was bombarded with ideas to do just that.  I attended a pre-conference Organic University taught by Chris Blanchard of the Purple Pitchfork called Managing your way to Farm Success.  This course was a goldmine of worthwhile information about getting organized.  I came home with resolutions to get an annual inventory up and running (I’m well on my way to completion!) and to close open loops (the gates are repaired, tools are hanging close at hand in the hoophouse, and more) of nearly completed projects that can’t yet be checked of the checklist and get in the way physically and mentally.

On the suggested reading list for virtually every session I attended at the Organic Conference were the following: The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work by Ben Hartman and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®  by Stephen R. Covey.  The first one is a new book, but the second one is a surprise because it has been around for over 25 years.  It indicates to me that small scale organic farming has matured of late to a point where the how-to’s of growing are pretty well mastered and therefore farmers are taking a closer look at management and organization.

I borrowed The Lean Farm from the library and devoured it.  It fed perfectly into all the organizational thinking I had already been doing.  The principles behind the lean system were developed in the automotive industry by Toyota.  Ben Hartman has taken the concepts and translated them into the world of small sustainable farms.  And they make so much sense to me!  Basically the lean system roots out waste (labor, resource, etc.) to improve efficiencies.

Examining my own farm for areas where I spend a lot of time without gaining any value (sadly a long, long list), I decided to start by tackling my weedy garden paths and by creating a sheep handling area that could stay in place at all times.

I have been trying and failing to manage the weeds in my garden paths by laying down newspaper and covering it with mulch.  I spend time on it every year and never get all the way around the garden.  Therefore, I’m perpetually allowing weeds to go to seed and to spread by roots and rhizomes and this adds to the work year on year.  I have a friend who has had in place a type of landscape fabric that acts as a weed barrier and is also designed to withstand UV exposure.  I spoke with her to get advice on how to install the material to get the most from it.  I’m going to prepare a level substrate with gravel covered by a thin layer of sand and will avoid puncturing the fabric wherever possible by lapping it up onto my wooden raised beds and using batten strips to hold it in place.  I’m trying to avoid using mulch on top of the fabric because it always catches seeds and provides welcoming habitat for new weeds to germinate.  This fabric can’t be considered a permanent solution (even concrete isn’t permanent), but it should make my weed management system vastly more efficient with a relatively low cash and labor outlay.

There is a corner of our barn that can easily be retrofitted for a sheep handling area.  I’ve been researching sheep handling system designs and got good ideas from Use Sheep Behaviour to Your Advantage When Designing Handling Facilities, Sheep 201 and North Dakota State University Sheep Building Plans.  Rather than invest a great deal of money in panels and gates initially, I’m starting by using hog panels cut to length for chutes, gates, etc.  That way, I can try out the system and see if it works or not.  Later on, I’ll add specially made equipment where it adds the most to the efficiency of the system.

I have just started reading Covey’s book.  I’m certain that principles he writes about will add depth to the paradigm shifts that started for me this winter.  I know “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, but I’m happy to have this new lean farm lens to examine all my farming activities and decisions through.

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Filed under Farm, Reduce, reuse, recycle, Research, Sustainability

What a Good Idea!

Communal Meat Lockers Could Help Scale Up Sustainable Meat

Once a prevalent adjunct to butcher shops, community meat storage spaces in upstate New York are supporting farmers and making meat more affordable.

Look no further than the local food movement to find history repeating itself. Food preservation, root cellars, seed saving, and other “old-fashioned” practices are being reinvigorated all over the country, proving that good ideas have lasting power.

Now the meat locker is making a comeback, thawing out after a long, deep freeze since its heyday in the 1940s. Continue reading

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Filed under Farm, Local Food, Reduce, reuse, recycle, Sustainability

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…Repurpose

And, note to self, refrain from breaking in the first place!

I used to have a lovely blue farmers market canopy with an aluminum structure that folded up compactly and was light and easy to set up.  It was great for shade, and did work in a light rain, but wasn’t water proof and tended to weep as it got wetter.

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Phillips Farmers Market, July 2007

Some of you may recognize the young entrepreneur set up next to me.  My young friend Travis looks much more grown up these days.

One day, I set up at Knox Creek Heritage Center for an event and a number of friends joined me in the shelter of this canopy.  We were demonstrating spinning and quilting, etc. and enjoying a good visit.  It began to rain, then a wind got started.  I added a tarp on the windy side and we shuffled into a smaller circle under the canopy.  Then the wind really got going with the tarp acting as a sail and I secured it to the back of the truck.

We were prepared to wait out the weather, but then the gale really got going and attendees began to scatter.  One of the event organizers came running to me, out of breath, and asked me to move the truck to clear an access path for other vehicles.  I jumped up, started the truck and peered every which way, fearful that I would hit someone and deafened by the torrential rain.

My friends sheltering inside the canopy were shouting and screaming for me to stop, but I couldn’t hear them.  In my haste to help clear the way, I had completely forgotten about the tethers to the truck.  The aluminum supports were bent beyond repair.

I do hate to toss out anything that has any useful life left in it.  And so, I have held onto that fabric and the aluminum structure.  In 2011, our wonderful farm intern, Martha, cut several squares from the blue fabric to fashion curtains for nest boxes for our hens.

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Scout and Sophie taking a break

Last year, I used a chunk of that blue fabric to recover Scout’s winter coat, which had gotten shabby.

And just this fall, I gave up struggling with the one size too large sheep coats I had put on my 3 lambs who will be joining the breeding flock.  I sewed new smaller ones for them from some more of that blue fabric.

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A Coopworth ewe lamb modeling her well fitting coat

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Flax the CVM wether was between sizes in my coat inventory as well

In the meantime, my husband Chris kept looking at that aluminum structure and thinking there must be a better use for it than cashing it in for scrap.  Last year he made himself a boot shelf in his coat closet using some of the aluminum sections as a rack and just this week I have one in mine!

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My closet – all dolled up for picture day

This addition was a good excuse to give the closet a good wipe down and evaluate which items should be moved on to new owners due to disuse and which were beyond using any longer.

BTW: Coats for sheep are intended to keep their wool clean, rather than to keep them warm – the wool does that.  For those not finding themselves with an old canopy to cut up, or less motivated to sew, I highly recommend Rocky Sheep Company as a friendly source for extremely durable, well designed sheep covers.

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Filed under Farm, Fiber Arts, Reduce, reuse, recycle, Sustainability