2010 Musings

December 26, 2010 It has been a very busy year. I generally like to be more forthcoming about the farm and the life it leads around us each year but this year I think I was generally trying to keep up with the farm as it led us to newer opportunities. The recap and the hope for the year to come follow.

The last of the flood repairs were accomplished, the bulk tank was fixed and the rental house got new siding. Other small things were finally replaced and I think we can finally put a close to 2007, other than the lessons learned. We had a Tilth Farm Walk here in April to discuss preparedness in disaster situations. We have three plans, move the animals out if we have enough time to connect the dots (organize transport and housing is available), we can move the animals to a farm about 3 miles away. The second is to build a ramp to the second floor of the barn, and the third in a pinch we can throw hay bales down to the floor of the barn and raise the floor by 18 inches or so that way. To clearly think and plan for your own home and animals in a disaster is useful, and hopefully most will never need to follow through.

We also were in a disaster preparedness comic book put out by the Seattle King County Health Department. I work at the Lewis County Health Department and one of the supervisors was approached by Seattle-King to find a story to use in their disaster preparedness plans. Meredith called we talked she looked at the website and created a story board. She e-mailed the story to me, without the pictures yet and it brought a tear to my eye. I had to let her know it was well done if it made me tear up, I thought I was over it all.

The sheep did a wonderful job milking this year they produced 4000 pounds more than we had anticipated. I commend the sheep and the milking crew. Danielle, Deborah, Brook and Brad did a great job. The flock average was 483 pounds of milk with some giving a stellar performance and some not. We again culled heavily this fall and sold off all those who did not hit 350 pounds of milk in the season. We have a lot of room for improvement. Sheri Palko of Locust Grove Farms in Tennessee has ewes milking 1200 to 1700 pounds of milk in a season. Yikes!

Markets went well, they are generally fun because of who comes. The comradery between vendors and the customers make or break a market situation. I commend our customers who come out no matter what the weather holds. The Farmers get there week after week with product and we do it for our loyal customers who come week after week even though it is cold or hot or rainy. Thank you to those who come it makes coming back again and again more appealing. Some days when the rain is coming in sideways it is just plain hard to go.

Breeding season came and went. We saved 15 ewe lambs as replacement ewes this year. Emma is our special little lamb who broke her leg when she was about 8 weeks old was not bred. I am not sure the cost was worth it but as Olivia Mills says if you allow the farmer to do all the culling and determine who is to be kept as replacements the sheep dairy industry will get no where. My interpretation, sigh. Those we did keep back, Emma included were of good milking mothers, the original decision was a good one, time will tell if the leg break will cause any future problems.

We do cull by the numbers. We do measure milk output. We do grade behavior in the milking parlour. If they are troublemakers and the milkers have to take time to deal with them while 5 other ewes are waiting…..they need to go to a new home. We hope we found good homes for those we culled this year. Some do better with the attentions of a hand milker and those go to a person who has that need. Some were just too old for us, they were special “pets” but not good producers. We had a friend who wanted a starter flock of easy to manage mommas. They went to her, performance was not an issue for her and we were glad they would get the attention they needed.

The year has been good, customers are great, the sheep are wonderful God has been good to us and we pray for you as well. We had an award winning cheese at the American Cheese Society Convention and were very pleased with that. It was a very competitive category. We have joined up with Provvista as a distributor. That was a big step for us. Next year we are looking at using a more intensive grazing method. We graze as much as we thought our land would permit but we can improve upon that and will be doing so with a lot of learning involved. We plan to raise out about 20 meat lambs. We are also delving into wool! I hope to keep you posted on that.

May God Bless each of you and we thank you all for your interest and involvement in Artisan Cheese.
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October 31, 2010 The month has gone. The season is over. The season was great! We were the busiest we have ever been and it is time to rest. The rams will be resting after today, the ewes are all bred, all that are going to be. The cheeses we have to sell over the winter will hopefully just sail on out at a good pace and leave me enough to start markets with in May. May always seems like a long way off. The end of the season is here it is time to celebrate a successful harvest and rest. The next season is already to start knocking at the door, but taking a few moments to look at what was accomplished before jumping into the new year is good. The sheep did well this year. The milking average for the flock was over 450 pounds of milk per animal. The cheese was good and the Queso de Oveja won a nice award at the American Cheese Society Competition. It was quite an honor. We participated in 4 Farmers Markets, learned a lot of lessons and met a lot of nice people. We had a great milking team this year and will hope to have many of them back for the next. The lambs did well, the ewes were great, we did have some tragedy but that is to be expected when dealing with this many animals. It was a busy good year. Time to rest and be Thankful.
The barn is almost cleaned out, we can bring the flock in from the pasture soon and settle them into the loafing shed, saving use of the barn for after shearing and the first two months of lambing. Shearing day will be January 8th and 9th, lambing starts January 26th, plus or minus 5 days. It is nice to have a seasonal business. There is time to look back and look ahead and a chance to improve ourselves in the process. This next year we will improve on our milking system and utilize a protocol started by our intern Danielle. It is always good to put things down and evaluate the steps and look at how to improve but most importantly we can all be consistent in how we approach the job. The sheep will benefit, the milkers, the milk and ultimately the cheese and the customer. We will be working to organize more of the steps in this fashion. We have grown out of our two person status to having employees and that means we need to communicate better and assume less. It will be a good thing for both Brad and I to do.
Lots of things to learn and do and lots to look forward to, right now, the ewes get fat and I get to clean the house out….unless I find something else to do.

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September 26, 2010 We missed it again. Sigh. The Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival is going on this weekend in Canby Oregon. It is wonderful having sheep. They are a triple purpose animal: Milk, Meat, and Fiber. We have the milk part figured out now. The meat is available for those who call early enough. As we expand our pastures we will expand our meat lamb list. Now I would love to turn my attention to the Fiber. I am learning more each year. We have a wonderful shearer who is also a spinner so he imparts nuggets of wisdom as he shears. Gretchen Wilson of Gretchen’s Wool Mill is also a fountain of knowledge. Not all wool is the same. There are many variables, crimp, length, strength, thickness, primitive wools (more hair fibers) vs. a finer fiber. We have a mix in our flock. We sell most of the white wool to Gretchen who cleans it cards it and then felts it. The wool then goes to a business in Ballard, EcoBalanza, and is used to cover the wooden structures of couches.

Cleaning is self explanatory. Carding wool is a process, as I understand it, where the fibers are combed out and straightened this separates the fibers and adds loft to the wool. Then in felting the loft is removed and all the clean single fibers are mashed together to form a mat. It is all down to the microscopic nature of the wool. In order to keep the animals warm in the winter and cooler in the summer the wool has scales on it. The fibers allow air to circulate around the skin in the summer and the scales open up to close the air in towards the skin in the winter. When felting wool the fibers are mashed together, either with friction and heat or with barbed needles dragging fibers in between each other to create the matted felt. The when treated, with heat and cold the scales open up to permanently secure the fibers into the mat.

It is fascinating what fiber artists can do with wool. Felting designs are beautiful, dyeing wool and then spinning or weaving the fibers into works of art, or into very utilitarian articles, is a fascinating art form. I am looking forward to the day I have time to really learn how to use the wool we clip from our animals every year. The smell and feel of the wool is wonderful. The colors, even without dyeing it, are beautiful. I desire to use another part of these animals that give us so much to increase the sustainability of the farm and the flock.

The Black Sheep Gathering will be held next spring in Oregon……..perhaps then.

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September 12, 2010 The geese are flying overhead, the rams are in with the ewes, more blankets at night but still not ready to close the windows, I love this time of year. Fall is wonderful. It is the change I need. This year has been extremely busy. The end of August arrived and Danielle departed. Labor day weekend arrived and Jess departed. The first week of school has come without catastrophe. The sheep are milking every 48 hours now, not wanting to give it up just yet. It was an incredibly busy summer and now as the season changes I have a list of things to do that just kept getting put off. So fall will be busy but of a different ilk.

Danielle came last spring to learn to make cheese. She found she loved the art of Affinage and excelled at it. She was a great milker and did a lot of things to help out, weighed lambs, markets, mowing, moving fence, metering in the milk parlour, even accomplished a batch of cheese with tutoring while Brad was busy haying.

Jess came back to us this summer and was able to jump in and carry off two markets and a lot of fresh cheese making. She perfected our Yogurt and Yogurt Cheese and has more sense in her little finger than I seemed to have all summer long. It was a blessing to have them both.

Brooke’s last day was Thursday the 9th. She called looking for a part time job just to get out of the house for a bit. She has three small children and a yearning to learn more about sustainability. She milked wonderfully and did some markets when I was not available. She is off to school now but hopes to return in the spring.

Deborah will help with the last of the milkings and has returned to her school nurse job. Deborah has an eye for omissions. She will nicely and quietly take on jobs that seem to go lacking, making lists of ingredients—-before they run out completely—-unlike me, and bringing a steady pace to the franticness of summer.

That leaves Brad and I to put the farm to bed. The combine will get cleaned out, the last of the irrigation will get done. The barn still needs cleaning, I started to do it last weekend but Brad and I agreed the house and the barn looked about the same so I started on the house. I have three Saturday s off in a row so I hope to accomplish a lot. I found the Laundry/Mud room yesterday. Under all those boxes and toys there was a floor down there! The big walnut in the front yard will begin to drop its leaves. The season is changing the cheeses have changed too. We no longer have our fresh cheeses. They end at the end of twice a day milking. Now it is all the aged cheeses. It is a different time of year and I always relish the seasonal change to fall as our lives will slow and different tasks will be accomplished.

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August 15, 2010 What a whirlwind.

August 15, 2010 The original idea for a post today was interrupted by a lesson in economics. Our seven year old, John, has been looking for ways to earn some money. He decided today he would sell cheese. He had big plans to take the patio table to the front yard and sell cheese to those who passed by. In quizzing him on this plan I suggested along with all the correct permits and handwashing set ups and making certain in 98 degree weather his product stayed cold he would need to pay me for the cheese he sold……”What, I am not going to buy the cheese, I don’t have any money!” In trying to discuss with him that we don’t get all profit from the cheese we sell we need to take some money out to feed the animals, to pay the power bills, the mortgage, the insurance, the packaging, and buy the additional ingredients. We need the proper license and liability insurance, the taxes must be paid, the employees. It was so foreign to him that he would have to spend money to make money. I discussed with him if he sold some cheese he could keep a percentage of the cheese. So he was happy with the idea that he could pay for it after it was sold and give me only a part of the money back…..then his brothers went down to swim in the river and for the temps nearing 100 that was the best thing for both boy and cheese. His mind is always going. Last time he tried this he sat by the road with three bags of wool and a small sign with his pricing for about 45 minutes. He will get to market, I will draft him someday as my market buddy.

Other wise life has been a whirlwind of events and markets.

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July 25, 2010 The hay has been cut and stacked into the barn. We will see what the quality is. Markets are going strong and are very fun to be at! The sheep continue to produce well. Though we are on the downhill slide they are still giving us plenty of milk to make the fresh cheese. We will slow down soon and move onto just the aged cheeses. The girls will get a break before breeding for next years cheese begins. Next year. It is always hard to think of next years cheese in the midst of markets, haying, milking and day to day life. Yes, we will begin to cull and look at sires for next years cheese! We will plan to lamb in February again with milkings starting in March so with a five month gestation there we are, September breeding. We did get a few meterings in this year and will have some good data to cull by. The slow milkers are not always the best ones amountwise, and the fast milkers may surprise you. The long milkers vs those with a shorter lactation are good keepers and the young ones always show potential. The wildest of the young ones is proving to be one of our better milkers. Then we will need to decide if we cull on disposition. Deborah tells me they kick right at knuckle height as the teat cups are placed on the ewe. It can be painful if several do this. Decisions, decisions.

I just returned Friday from Tin Willow Farms in Eastern Oregon. Terry and Doug continue to make wonderful milk and we can make equally wonderful cheese from it. The Tin Willow Tomme will emerge from the cave starting in September. This beauty we wait 5 months for. The Mopsy’s Best and the Queso de Oveja are out now. The batch we just cut into for this weekends markets was exceptional if I do say do myself. What fun is this. Brad continues to make better and better cheese, of course I am not biased!

Next idea on the list will hopefully come to fruition in 2011. We want to make 1 to 2 pound rounds of cheese. I have several customers who would like to buy a “round” of cheese. The larger ones are quite large, especially for smaller households. We hope to market these rounds whole. What fun!

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June 20, 2010 Summer is officially here. School is out and the equinox comes tomorrow. The weather is to be better this week too. Can we have it all? Seems like Spring has hung on and on and on. Summer with some 70 to 80 degree temps and a week with no rain so we can get the hay cut would be wonderful!

The hay. The lambs are born, the lambs are weaned, the mothers milked they all grow and eat and grow. They eat hay all winter. We put up the hay when we can……right now it is tall and beginning to head out. If we don’t get it cut, dried, baled and into the barn we will have straw to feed all winter. We will pray that the sun materializes this week and that we can get the hay cut and in before it is straw. That will be a huge relief to have the first cutting done and in. If we get a second cutting, that is the better more nutritious hay, we will be blessed. We just hope to get the first batch in safely. Hay is still such a mysterious entity to me. Many a barn has burned down from putting in hay that is too wet. The molecules in wet hay apparently create heat through friction and then ignite spontaneously and the barn can burn to the ground. Once hay ignites it is a very hot fire.

There was a science to making hay. Before we moved to the farm I used the words hay and straw interchangeably. Straw is non nutritive often made after harvesting your grain crop of wheat, barley, grass seed. It is good for bedding or mulch. Hay provides nutrition, if cut at the right time when the sugars and the proteins are optimum in the grass stalk. All goes to making good milk and better cheese.

Feed issues are big with dairy animals. Proteins, Sugars for energy, hot feed, or acidic feeds and roughage for the rumen all must be in balance. Sheep are ruminants and need the roughage. Our dairy animals need enough protein and energy to sustain themselves and make milk. Too much Protein and the milk can become too acidic and make poor cheese. Too little and the milk production drops. It is all a balance. Good hay is an integral part of the process.

The farm otherwise goes on Jess has returned and is at the St Johns Farmers Market in Portland on Saturdays, and in Chehalis at the Community Farmers Market on Tuesdays. Brooke is learning the ropes in Moreland. She used to live in Portland and will fill in there on Wednesdays when I am not able to attend. Danielle will pinch hit where needed. She has lived in Portland and Seattle and many points in between so travel for her is not a problem. Both Brooke and Danielle have been milking for us. Jess makes cheese and Deborah milks and cheeses and cleans and fills in as counselor when needed. We have a great team of people helping out!

So, Bring on Summer, we are ready and willing and Markets need that extra bit of sunshine to make the weekly fiestas happen!

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June 7, 2010 June has arrived and so has some sunshine!!!! It was a glorious day on Saturday. The sun was shining, it was tho opening day of the St John’s Market in Portland. Beautiful. The rains fell the day before and following but Saturday was gorgeous. Those are the days we live in the Northwest to celebrate.

We were blessed to be on a segment of Northwest Backroads. They did a wonderful job of telling our story and showed beautiful shot of our sheep and even a very nice milking clip. http://www.king5.com/on-tv/northwest-backroads/Chehalis-family-owned-dairy-earning-artisan-reputation-95129719.html Pictures speak volumes. The lamb crop this year is very healthy and they have several good shots in the video. The video also encouraged us to have time available on the farm. We will have staff available to answer questions from 10-4 Tuesdays to Saturdays during June, July and August. September will most likely drop to just Saturdays 10-4 through May. Calling prior to a visit is still advised as we are often called away and are a very small business. This is a huge step for us so pardon our inexperience as we learn just what is needed as we go.

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May 23, 2010 What a beautiful weekend for the Seattle Cheese Festival last weekend. It was all Seattle had to offer sunshine with breezes, beautiful vistas, and cheese! Thank you to all who visited our booth.

Next on the list is to gear up for ongoing markets and the new, to us, St Johns Market in NW Portland. Puyallup continues to be fun and the Moreland Farmers Market is getting going under new leadership. The weather did not comply this week so I truly thank all those who came out to get their market goodies. It promises to be better as the season conitnues on, I hope.

New Seasons Markets and Market of Choice have been selling our fresh cheeses. Steve Jones’ new Cheese Bar at 60th and SE Belmont also has our cheese in Portland. We will be sending fresh cheese to Tilth in Seattle as well as Ray’s Boathouse. We love our fresh cheeses and are excited to send them to these chefs to see what they will do with them.

NW Epicurean ( http://nwepicurean.com/tours/ ) is planning a Cheese Tour of SW Washington. June 19th Marieke will be touring chefs through the creamerys of the Southwest Washington Cheesemakers Guild. She will be pairing the cheeses with beers of local breweries and the day will culminate with a feast hosted at Willapa Hills Farmstead Cheese. What a day! What energy and imagination! Keep your eyes on Marieke Gerritson, she will be making a mark on the local sustainable agriculture venues of the Pacific NW!

Not much else, the lambs continue to grow. The milkers continue to milk. The hay is continues to grow. The rain continues to fall, except for those idyllic NW days when the sun shines. Life goes on and we are too!

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May 10, 2010 The Seattle Cheese Festival is at our door. May 15 and 16th the Pike Place Market will be overrun with Cheese vendors and Cheese Foodies. Historically quite a zoo but it always seems like an amiable crowd. Jess, our intern from last summer will be returning to help us out. Alas, Brad and I will disappear to the Peninsula. What? Miss the Seattle Cheese Festival? No we will have to make our appearance on Sunday. Monica and Mark of Monica’s Waterfront Bakery in Silverdale has invited us to the lowest tide of the year party at the Hama Hama Oyster Farm. Shucks, pun intended, we will be at the beach. We will be serving cheese with the wine from Hoodsport Winery and enjoying the day! Monica has promised beautiful weather, Bald Eagles, Whales, Bears….all included in the service. Sunday it will be back to the real world…..actually Saturday pm it will be back to the real world as Brad is scheduled to milk and I will have to replenish the cheese for the Sunday Market day. Moments, we grab and cherish those moments thrown at us.

Like Mother’s day. The only thing I did for cheese yesterday was to start incubating the starter culture. I swept patios, weeded beds, planted containers and had a wondrous Northwest Spring Day. It was GLORIOUS. The temperature hovered between 65-70 degrees. Warm enough to remove the sweatshirt for a while but not so hot we broke a sweat. Those days are why we live here in God’s Green Country and we were blessed with a beauty. The rain returned in the night but the rest of the week is promising to be good. And Good it will be as the Moreland Market will begin on the 12th! It is always so good to go and see good friends after the winter season is over. It will be a Party at 14th and Bybee in SE Portland from 3:30 to 7:30 on the 12th of May, infact it will be a weekly event until Mid October this year! That seems like a long ways from now!

Today is Monday, Piano lessons for John, so I steal a few moments to catch up on the farm and events we have planned. Tomorrow will provide its own events.
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April 18, 2010 Whew, and again, Whew. The sheep are milking very well this year. The lambs looked good and are almost gone! The last batch will be leaving next Sunday. On Saturday we go to Ione, Oregon to pick up the Tin Willow Milk to make the Tin Willow Tomme and the Fresh Pecorino. It has been a great year so far and we have only just begun. Wow. Events have started and Farmers Markets begin May 1st in Edmonds, Redmond, and Puyallup. We have a coinciding event that weekend. The Heymann Whinery has asked us to sample cheese at their store during a Lewis County Wine Tour here on May 1st and 2nd.

Moreland Market will begin May 12, and St. John’s Farmers Market will begin June 5th. The Chehalis Community Farmers Market will begin on June 16th.

The Tilth walk will be here on the 26th of April. I hope we are ready for it. I guess if it is farmers they will understand the mud and tall grass. It is not always the prettiest of places in the rain but today is sunny and once the puddles dry out the mud blends in with the grass, it all begins to looks better.. We are what we are, perfect we are not!

Tonight we host the Southwest Washington Cheesemaker’s Guild. We have been meeting with the other cheesemakers in Lewis County and now Dee Creek Farms has joined us. It is very nice to carve a bit of time from busy schedules to meet and touch base with all that is going on in the lives of our cheesy neighbors. We are all different and yet have many of the same needs.

Blue Rose Dairy, Rhonda and David Rider, have goats and they make several chevres and fetas and a few aged cheeses. They are family owned and operated. You will find them in Markets from Longview to Seattle and in many restaurants in Seattle. They began making their cheeses in our creamery and have grown out of here to their own facility.

Dee Creek has many goat cheeses as well concentrating their efforts south from Cowlitz County into Portland. They have braved the Portland Saturday Market. Anita and her crew have had fleece sheep in the past. They are gone now so they recently purchased 10 ewe lambs from us look forward to their Sheep milk Cheeses as well!

Rosecrest Dairy is located just across the river from us here in Chehalis. They are on the high side of the bank! They make Swiss Cheese, all flavors and all types. I love their story. They bought the business from a Swiss Gentleman who taught Sharon McCool all she knows. They bought all of his supplies and molds and got straight into making cheese. Gary has been a Dairyman for…..I will let him say how long. Sharon is the Cheesemaker.

Willapa Hills Farmstead Cheese also attends. Amy and Steve have blue, blue, blue dreams and cheese. They make sheep and cow milk cheeses but concentrate on bleu flavors. They make an exceptional yogurt cheese that is delicious on scones. I took some to my quilting retreat in February and have been hungering for it since. I could eat scones with jam and cheese all day long.

All different flavors and all different cheeses. We are working with Epicurean NW to develop a cheesmakers tour of SW Washington. Little snags like potty rooms, insurance, liability of farm equipment all make me a bit nervous, it will all come together. It is interesting how the different farmsl react to visitors. Rosecrest is open stated hours each week. They have a blue tourism sign on Highway 6 directing people to their farm. Willapa Hills has just placed a sign on the road advertising their presence. They will become a destination farm eventually making rooms available for those who want to stay and work. I have yet to work up the courage to invite a barrage of folks here at random hours. We still have a PO Box as our posted address. We are almost ready with retail space on the farm but are not always home to be open. It is a big jump, there are horror stories of people coming at all hours and then there are those who have found us that are as pleasant as can be. Thus far the tours we have done have been quite encouraging. Last week on Friday we had Shorewood High School, Evergreen State University, Winerybound, and the Tilth Coordinators. Brad was so busy with tours our John’s school bus was not met and the driver had to drop him off on the return trip……those are the issues yet to be ironed out. We cannot sacrifice family for “fameJ”.

All told we look forward to the 2010 season. It is our 6th year selling cheese a lot of obstacles have been overcome, a lot of lessons learned, the farm functions fairly well, and we have a great staff working with us. We still have some bugs to work out, but all in all, right now, this morning the problems we have are all good problems to face. God has been good and we have been blessed in many ways. I may complain from too much to do and not enough time but the alternative is not a good option!

See you at Markets…..SOON!

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March 22, 2010 Lambing is over and weaning continues. We have been fortunate this year. We have enjoyed a very successful lambing season. We had 73 ram lambs and 87 ewe lambs, three unknown (lost with their momma). Out of 163 lambs we lost 12 which is about 7 percent. Our vet suggests 10-15% is normal for a flock our size. It is always hard to see some lost but it happens. We have saved a couple but we must always consider why…other than we do not like to lose them! Yoda was a success and I think we will be able to move him on to be a mower. He was born backwards so we thought he just had trouble standing up. It turns out his entire right shoulder was a bit off kilter. It looked like muscle had been shaved off. He was not able to stand for his first 10 hours of life. Brad milked his momma and fed him in a bottle. He gradually gained the strength to stand and nurse and even walk. He would hobble all over the yard from barn to shed and back. His mother was always aware of where he was. Several times I saw her seek him out, get him up and allow him to nurse. It was really quite amazing and diligent of her to seek him out so much. His rate of growth rivaled his bouncy boisterous sister. By the time he was one week old he was very able to get around and did not need any additional milk, in fact he was hard to find in the crowd of lambs. His eyes and ears give him away. He has sideways ears and bulging eyes….Yoda is a perfect name for him.

Our little Polly Parrot Jaw did not fare so well. She had a severe underbite. She was unable to nurse on her mother since her lower jaw could not assist her to suck. We did bottle her for a week or so but even that she was not doing well with. She faded and we lost her, but not without a valiant try.

Lambing has many facets; mothers, babies, nursing, growing, waking to check, locating lost babies back with their mothers. I am always so impressed as I watch the mothers deliver their young. I see the pushing and straining to get those babies out, then the first one is seeking mother’s milk. The babies often are on their feet in five minutes looking for food. Mother still has another baby or two to get out whilst the first one is chasing her down to nurse. Mothers seem to be aware of where her babies are at all times. Trying to lay down to push out the next baby while the first one or two are trying to get underneath you to nurse is not easy task with four feet that have sharp hoofs on them. These mothers amaze me. They somehow get the babies out without squishing the others. I have seen Emily push out a third while the first two babies are eating. No shortage of stories of wonderful moms and wonderful lambs.

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March 18. 2010 No lamb checks last night. I slept all the way till Morning. Sigh. I could feel human again after a few days of that. All done with one more chapter on the farm. I repeat myself endlessly. I love the seasons of change that come with an agrarian lifestyle. I guess all professions get some change but it is nice to know that this moves us into cheese making and that moves us into marketing. The chapters build on each other and the energy follows. There is an excitement with the change and what the new year will bring. The first batch of fresh cheese has been made and is in Portland. New Seasons, Arbor Lodge and 7 Corners. What fun, the cheesemongers we sell to are always so enthusiastic and welcoming. They encourage me by telling me of the customers who like and look for the cheese. That is many of you! We thank you. It is always encouraging to get such positive feedback and after being up with Cowgirl from 1am to 3 am yesterday it was the encouragement that fueled the drive home, It gives a purpose for all we do! Thank you.

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March 14, 2010 Well, I had a day yesterday. I think it was a normal Saturday from what I remember before we had the dairy. John needed new shoes. So, John and I went with my parents to look at the progress on their new home, then we all had a bite at BurgerKing and then John and I went to the Outlet Mall to find some school shoes. Wow, there are a lot of people who do that on Saturday! As I was driving around looking for a parking spot I remembered doing a lot of Saturday shopping with my friend Janet when we lived in Spokane and worked all week. It was nothing to me then and, Spokane has a few thousand more cars than Centralia. Maybe I am just getting old. It happens.

I came home to find my lambs for the week and to weigh them. Had to hunt down 28 lambs from 15 to 30 pounds and put them in the sling to weigh. I have to say the traffic in the barn was much easier to handle than the traffic in the parking lot at the mall. The traffic outside the barn was a bit more daunting than the freeway. The lambs were enjoying a moment of sun and were in a large group running up and down the large dirt piles in the yard. I have always thought it looked like an ocean wave, flowing up the hill, cresting at the top, turning and running back another direction all in a cohesive group. I never did find #76, he was in the wave. But it is fun to watch.

Milking is going well. We have weaned lambs from 8 ewes now who are full time milkers. Poor, Darling, I weaned her single lamb at 35 pounds yesterday. She was the semi horn blowing in the barn yesterday. Everytime I crossed her street she would bellow. She was bellowing every where she went but I took it personally as I was the one that caught and removed her baby. It will be quiet today. She milked out well last night and will be a milker till September. It is hard to go through the weaning process but as hard as it is it settles out rather quickly. They all get into a new schedule, eating and milking….or for the lambs eating and, eating.

I told Cowgirl on Thursday morning at 2:00AM that it was my last barn check in the middle of the night. I lied. Brad did it Friday morning but I got up at 2:00 today and went out. Still no babies, Cowgirl is huge! I hurt looking at her. Surely today!

I think Lambing season needs to end. I must confess one more thing then you can decide if the crazy life in the country is better than shopping in crowds on Saturday. I was awake at 2:00 when the time change happens. Are we on daylight savings now or off? I never remember. I dug my Cell phone out from under my pillow, I was curious to see how the time changed automatically since the rest of the clocks will be a manual change. It really was not spectacular. It flashed 2:00 then “no service”, then it was magically 3:00 AM. A whole hour of my life gone is a flash of “no service”. No comments from those who know me!

Today is promising sunshine! I have around 34 babies to catch and weigh for their week birthday. Let’s hope there are two additional ones to weigh, out of Cowgirl!

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March 2, 2010 I am at work today, resting. Brad and Deborah and Danielle are at the farm, graining, making cheese and watching for babies. We have had 11 by lunchtime with two of our best looking like today will be their day. Wow. Like I said I am resting. I got up at 3:30 am Sunday for a barn check. Went in at 6:30 for a nap and a bite to eat, then back on at 7:30 for the rest of the day. I think 15 were born on Sunday and 20 on Monday. Whoo Hoo! That means we only have 15 more mommas left to lamb. One more week of late night barn checks and the season is off and running. We will plan to officially begin milking on March 9th. We hope to begin to make fresh cheeses and have them delivered to New Seasons and Main Market by March 19th. Stay tuned I will post when that happens. Brad has begun a Black Sheep Creamery Facebook page. We will post pending and actual cheese deliveries there as well. The needed energy for the Market season is gaining momentum. The weariness of lambing will be replaced by the frenzy of milking and cheesemaking soon. This requires a whole new mindset which will provide us with the excitement needed to get through the season. My Market customers know that by August I am ready for the season to wind down and change but the change of pace in the Winter has been good and off we trundle into a new season.

Trundling makes me think of my precious bundles I found this morning at the 5:30 Barn check. I went on out to the barn “tra la tra la” and could hear a small little bleat of a new born….only it was coming from the West side of the Cheese room. The Barn is on the right…..It was too close to be from the loafing shed….There next to the planter in front of the Cheese make room was a very new born little lamb. “Oh my Goodness little one where is your mommy” I scooped it up and walked to the barn and found another little lamb in the grassy area between the Barn and the Cheese room….Oh my Goodness was it raining lambs? Mother, Greytail, was inside the hog panel fence yelling for her babies. The panel has come loose on one side and somehow these little ones got over the 12 inch ledge and onto the other side. I went into the barn with my small, wet cold, bundles and there was another small wet bundle in the barn. I gathered up mother and lambs and jugged them together and continued my search for any other imminent deliveries. There in the barn was another little wet bundle. Whippet was standing gaurd over this one. At first I thought “oh good, Whippet has had babies”….”oh yeah she had two the other day”. This little package was then delivered to her mother as well and Greytail is a fine mother to four babies. Glad it is her not me. Never a dull moment around here.

Milking to start soon then onto cheese!

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March 1, 2010 Well, if there is nothing going on at the farm I don’t find much to say here. If there is so much going on I can’t get to the computer I don’t find the time to say much here. It has been extremely busy. Lambs are everywhere. I cannot imagine what happens on the big farms. We have had an eventful but uneventful season. Lots of busy work but, thankfully, nothing grossly out of the ordinary. Maybe I am getting calloused. I hope not. We have had a couple tragic moments this season but the joyful events are outnumbering those.

Lambs are calling in the barn, mothers calling back. Some are louder than others, some just rude. Darling is the Queen. Darling is not an appropriate name when it comes to mothering. She comes into the door of the barn and bellows “MAAAAA, baby wake up and find me!” She will go to the next building and “MAAAAA”. She will plow her way through the crowd of ewes and lambs and will continue to MAA loudly until her baby arrives to eat. Is it any wonder that single lamb weighed 24 pounds at 2 weeks. There will be some we will wean at 6 weeks at only 25 pounds.
Then there are the gentle mothers who barely let their babies out of their sight. The babies always seem to be tucked under the mothers chin. Mother is always watching the two legged beasts in the barn to make sure we are kind to her young. Emily is like that with 3 of her 4 babies. I have consistently found one of them off with another crowd. When offered a bottle she has taken it lustily which makes me think she is the one left out. We will augment her mother’s milk with an occasional bottle.
The noises the babies and mothers make are so vital to their bonding. I love hearing the nurturing, cooing noises at the midnight barn checks. Sometimes I can hear a baby is born before I can find it. The babies make a plaintive small bleat answered by the mother’s low throated baaa, very quiet, very maternal, calling to her new young baby. It is such a sweet sound. It is such fun to hear from outside and find a nice mother who has delivered a beautiful baby, or more. Sometimes the mothers are not so nurturing. I ask you why they are the ones who deliver in the middle of the night? Yellow 8057, maybe she is reacting to the fact she has no name yet, was a wild new mother. She had no intention of feeding the young babies who were after her. She would lick them off to clean them but if they tried to nurse she butted them off and sent the poor babies flying. We held mother up to the wall and the babies nursed but if we let her go she was not interested at all. Yellow 8048 did the same thing. So with the both of them we put the babies in the next stall with a heat lamp. Mother could see them but not hurt them. The next day when we released Yellow 8048 she hung around the baby pen. The next time I came into the loafing shed two of her three babies had escaped their pen and were nursing on their mother! Was it worth getting up every three hours that night to hold babies onto a fighting mother? I guess it was, it worked.
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February 18, 2010 Another busy evening. Thank goodness Andrew had his training on Tuesday evening as I needed him to help out last night. Jynx was in the barn delivering three girls when a first time mother decided to go into labor in the loafing shed. It must be the nurse in me but I like to be there to make sure babies can breathe and that the mothers take them well. I have seen mothers back off in fear of these wet little “rats” who depend on them for their lives. The mothers have no idea what to do with babies. Our first time mother had the makings of the “fearful new mother sort” so I did not want to leave her alone. I called Andrew to come out and watch Jynx, an old pro, and make sure all her babies did okay while Iwas in the loafing shed. He did great and Jynx produced three girls. We may have more ram lambs so far this year but the moms that count are giving us some pretty nice ewe lambs. Our new mother was very flighty, very interested in licking off her newborns but tried to butt them off a time or two as they were searching for a teat to give them the meal they deserved. Mom was wanting to finish delivering all the afterbirth and placenta before commiting to the babies. Some do. It can get tangled up in their legs and by the time it starts to come out, at 32 degrees, it is a cold wet irritant. I really could not fault her the discomfort but I was tired and hungry and by 9:00 I wanted to go in and eat dinner. She did settle down and take the boys just fine and this morning they were right as rain and bouncing around. Danielle and I watched another set of twins be delivered earlier at 4:00. This mother did great, delivered nice BIG babies, and they ate well with a little assist from Danielle. Thus goes lambing. It was a quiet night Brad checked at 2 am and I at 5:30.

February 17, 2010 We have our over achiever for the year. Emily had quadruplets yesterday. She did a beautiful job, as usual. She peacefully and gracefully delivered three, Brad and Danielle went onto other jobs as she cleaned up her “triplets” when they came back to check on her there was the fourth. Three ewe lambs and a ram lamb. She is a wonderful mother and a great milker we are excited to increase the ewe lamb population with her babies. Candy had twin ram lambs at dinner time. We ate in shifts, all except Andrew who stayed out to learn what to do with new lambs and to help. He did a great job. Andrew watched her change from being uncomfortable to actually getting down and pushing. We discussed how you watch for two feet first and then a nose. How to wipe off the nose of the newborn lambs as soon as is comes out so it can be assured of a good, clean, first breath. He helped get the soggy little creatures up and see that they both drank colostrum from their mother. We jugged up the mom and gave her warm molasses water for energy after laboring. Then off to bed, only to get up at midnight to chaos in the barn. Not sheep chaos this time. Dog chaos.

Some animal of unknown species broke the latch on one of the gates in the barn. I heard a tremendous amount of barking and looked out the window to see Jewel in the yard. She is not to be out of the barn or barnyard. Off I race to the barn to find sheep in the grain, no dogs in the barn and no dog to answer when I call to them. I call Brad, who hangs up on me! He uses his cell phone as the midnight alarm clock. He heard it clicked it open and shut it. He says in the brief moment he had it open he heard a lamb bleat and thought, in his sleepiness, whoops. I call him back and rattle on a long sentence “ the sheep are out and in the grain the dogs were in the yard and won’t come when I call at least Jewel is out I can’t find Brutus I need help out here!” He got “Dogs out” and “need help” which in the middle of the night translate to get out of bed, post haste. No big dogs to be found, just Penny the puppy. She was praised extra for staying on her job. We trolled up and down the road in the truck looking for the two big lumbering shapes of our 150 pound and 175 pound guard dogs. They heard the truck and came “ gallomping” down the road toward us. We loaded them up took them home, checked for any new lambs, gazed upon those that were born in the last 12 hours and went to bed. Such is Lambing season.

Today we have promises from Goodness and Faith who both have told me they plan to have two perfect babies during the daylight hours. Sigh, every move the ewes make leads me to believe they are imminent to delivering. They stretch their neck, they must be pushing, they yawn, oh they are getting ready, their vulva is pink and swollen, oh, they just defecated. Sigh the poor girls would like me to quit the barn for their season of partrition. Oh well, they are stuck with me and I with my imagination. It is still magical. Danielle has gotten the bug and enjoys watching them as we do. The babies are so perfect and they are up and eating so soon after being born it is quite an amazing drama to watch. We have wonderful moms and healthy babies so far. I am so Thankful for that. God has been Good and I am very Thankful for the opportunity to see life unfold before my eyes.

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February 12, 2010 I felt like a real old time pioneer this morning. We had no power but lambs could be coming anyway so the 5:30 lamb check needed to happen. I got out the Coleman Lantern and walked to the barn in that eerie shaky light lanterns have to offer. The kind that makes your shadow loom opposite the lantern as it casts its light all round. The barn was all dark of course and very quiet. I entered and the dogs did not even bark. Brutus and Jewel were in the barn with the majority of the sheep and Penny was stationed at the end of the loafing shed protecting the mothers in lambing jugs with their babies. My lantern picked up no action as the light played off and around all the sleeping sheep and all the babies were with their mothers and quietly sleeping as well.

Yes, all the babies. We have 12 now. The first two came Saturday night then, on Monday, as Brad was touring some folks from WSDA and the State Agritourism Office we had a single. Then Deborah found Shirley with twins Monday at noon while we were at lunch in Ilwaco with the Agritourism folks. It was quiet till yesterday and Brad found 4 lambs at the 2:00 lamb check then Cherie had three yesterday afternoon. Our new Intern Danielle was able to see them being born on her first day here.

The ones born in the middle of the night were in good shape but would not have been for long. Each mother had managed to lose one of her babies. Brad found one across the aisle from its mother who was busy with it’s sibling. The other momma had lost one out the back door and it had wedged itself between the door and the side of the shed. It would have gotten cold fast out there.

Cherie had our first black babies of the year. She is Mopsy’s daughter and is beautiful herself. When she was a lamb she was long and lean and had these gorgeous legs that she would prance around on like a thoroughbred horse. Her babies all have that long legged look to them as well. Just a beautiful sight to see.

Lambing is off with a bang. Lots of ram lambs so far: 8 rams to 4 ewes. It will change as the season progresses.

———

February 7,2010 I Thank the Lord for curious people. Selena, who is a culinary student at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Seattle had been down here several times to help us out. Both shearing days, and a few others to get the barn together for lambing, we have expanded the area for the girls this year. She set up the lamb jugs yesterday, mucked up a bit of heavily soiled straw and then spread fresh straw throughout for the girls to bed down on. Brad placed collars on the girls who appeared to be ready to lamb, 9 in all. That way in the middle of the night we can find the requisite number of collars and go back to bed if no one is in labor. It helps us to find the ones that sneak off and hide to lamb. Not so common this early in the year but sometimes they will choose to lamb out on the grass in early spring and those ones are hard to find at night in the barnyard.

My thankfulness for Selena’s help was manifested when we got a call from our neighbor at dinner time. Kelly called to say I hear a dog whining in your barn, and it worried her. Brad went to check out what was going on figuring it was the new guard dog puppy being rolled by Brutus or Jewel. It was, only because Brutus was guarding a new lamb that had wandered away from it’s mother. Obviously it had come out of Mocha but Cherie was licking it off trying to mother it. What chaos. Brad ran back to fetch help with the dogs being crazy, lambs spread all over, two moms looking for their babies, and all the rest of the sheep stirring about. That is lambing. That was the blessing of having clean lambing jugs ready and waiting for these two new babies and their momma, That was the blessing Selena brought to us. They are beautiful babies too. Two ram lambs 10 and ½ pounds and 9 and a half. I am glad Selena was here and that Mocha blessed her with seeing brand new lambs before she left.

Cherie called to the lambs for a couple hours looking for her babies. She will lamb soon. We are on to her. In 2007 she and Missy lambed in tandem licked off each others babies and shared the three babies they had between them until weaning time. Cherie steals babies, or should I say she has strong maternal instinct!

We are off and running it is good.

———-

February 5, 2010 Market Applications, Lambing supplies, cheese calendars, labels, starters, t-shirts, lunch bags, vacuum sealing bags, tubs, herbs. Hurry up and do it all. W-2’s, the W-3, 943, State DOR taxes, income taxes…..This was supposed to be our down time. It has been a blur. Special dinners, Cheese demonstrations, sales events, wool to sell. Whew, I guess it is understandable that the laundry was piled on the couch again for a week. At least it is clean.

Last week I met with a woman who is opening an online regional foods sales room. It is all I can think to call it. I am amazed at all these boxes can offer to those who understand all the functions and uses of search engines and can trace “hits” on web sites and such. Foodshed will have its beginning soon and Brenda Crow has the experience to make it happen. I have to admit I felt old talking to her. She spoke of all her sales experiences and her understanding of how to make the internet sales world work for both the consumer and retailer. It was phenomenal! Watch for her to shine.

Then Brad did a cheese tasting at Metropolitan Market in Seattle as they reopen their Mercer store. It was very impressive he tells me. Saturday Brad was doing a cheese demonstration at the Winterschool in Stanwood put on by the Snohomish and Skagit extension offices and WSU. He did great even with the rennet sitting in the fridge in our cheese room in Chehalis. What a team effort to make that cheese curdle. Extension people calling a multitude of cheesemakers in the Northwestern portion of the state, so and so knew so and so and they knew whosit who may have some rennet. It came via the FFA advisors brother, the class progressed, and we were blessed to be in a great company of farmers and forgiving cheesemakers and folks there to learn about a number of topics from Brain Tanning of hides to fencing to mulch and winter vegetable crops. It was huge and would be well worth the effort to get there next year.

This week we are looking into which markets to apply to. We will be mailing out applications by Wednesday and will post our locations as soon as we are accepted. Next week we are off to Ilwaco to look at participating in a state Agritourism Map for Southwest Washington. We have been encouraged to look into a map of Creameries and offered help on many fronts. All this stems from a meeting of minds from four Creameries in Lewis County. The Blue Rose Dairy, Rosecrest, Willapa Hills and our selves. We hope to work together and create an opportunity to share what we do in an organized fashion. If nothing else we are having a great time with the other cheesemakers and getting to know one another. They are all good folk.
We start lambing in the midst of all this. We actually had an early one this morning that started us out on a sad note. The babies were just too jumbled and stuck, mom was not dilating, we did not catch it in time. It had a sad end, we lost mom and babies. She was early so we are not entirely sure what happened but it does not feel good to start with such a great loss. It is the first time we have lost a mother while lambing. We learn more every day of every season. Will keep you all posted of progress from here on out.

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January 10, 2010 The girls are Looking Gooooood this year. They were sheared on Saturday with much fun and help and they look quite nice. Last year on shearing day we were quite embarrassed as some of them were thinner under all that wool than we would have liked to see. This year we have full bellies, few hips showing and some udders beginning to protrude. Without being cocky they make us proud.

We had a fun day shearing. We had Friends of Friends of Friends of Friends and now just “friends” all come to help out for a day. I work with Kathleen who is a friend of Sarah, who is a friend of Stacy who both live in Portland and know Molly, one of my cheese customers who is married to Steve…….and Stacy just happened to know a bit about skirting fleeces, and Molly is a Nurse so we had a grand day and produced some 58 fleeces that are now air drying in the barn. The day was very nice and beautiful, the sun came out so our naked flock was kissed by daylight and did not even run back into the barn shivering without their wool coats.

The day started at Eight O’Clock with the Shearer setting up. Actually it started the night before with the opening of the Barn and the fact that Anna’s mother brought her over to us to have her help the next day. When the crew was assembled in the barn we had Anna and Jessica and Selena guard the holding pen. They ran the show. If the shearer was without his next haircut client we bogged down. Then Tim Sorg sheared, beautifully, I might add. He handed the ewe off to Brad who trimmed the feet. Meanwhile Jessica handed the next ewe off to the shearer while Selena or Anna picked up the fleece and placed it on the Skirting table. The ewe with trimmed feet was taken to Molly who gave her the vitamin shot and sent her out the door! Fleeceless in Chehalis. At 10:30 the Shearer called for a break. We munched on Pumpkin Scones with Coffee while Tim gave us a spinning demonstration. He has a new foldable wheel from Canada. Spinners always make spinning look so easy! I was enchanted. Lunch came after we finished shearing all the ewes two years old or less. We served Lamb and Black Bean Chili, Cornbread from Kathleen’s husband, and Brownies for John’s 7th Birthday. Back to shearing with a cheese break at the end! Then goodbyes and a hot shower.

The Barn has been empty for several months now drying out and airing out awaiting the next crop of lambs to grace it with their presence. Once it warms up in the spring the girls make do with the loafing shed to hang out in and the barn is closed off to be cleaned and wait for our next lambing. It is now full of life once again and will start getting fuller in a month. If only old barns could tell the stories of the seasons they have seen it would be a lengthy and wonderful tale.

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January 1, 2010 A new year has begun. A time to start fresh, anew, learn from our pasts and press forward.

I have been slowly packing up the Christmas decorations, taking down a few at a time. As I was packing away the Nativity Set I decided to wash off the muddy fingerprints. Yes, the shepherd had two finger marks on his robe and the sheep had a couple smudges. I had left them for a couple years in my gratitude to the person whose fingers had left them. Angela and Shawn Gregory, no relation amazingly, spent the better part of the month of December 2007 here helping us pack and clean, pack and clean, wash, wash, wash, and remove a lot of the muddied and ruined things in our flooded home. Angela removed my Nativity and collection of sheep that were on the buffet one day and carefully stored them in a well marked box so I would be able to find them again. Even the best of packers would have found it difficult not to muddy anything after 2 inches of silt had settled in the house from the 30 inches of water that had drained through the floor boards. I had left the smudges there to remind me of her generosity of time, of encouragement, of energy. I was so thankful for all they had done. I will never forget. My shepherd will always remind me since the dried mud is now gone but the muddy stain will persist.

It is a new year. Washing the flood mud from my shepherd seems symbolic of what I desire for the year. We have washed and washed the farm. We have replaced the livestock and have bred 75 animals this season. Our home was used to entertain 15 people the day after Christmas. We have a fresh start, a new beginning, we have been blessed. My language for two years has been peppered with “before the flood” statements, or “After the flood”, “Because of the flood”, “since the flood”. It makes me crazy. Will it ever go away? I desire in my heart to wash the mud away but I know the smudges will stay. Our lives will be forever changed by the flood of 2007 but it is time to wash the last traces of visible mud away. I expect anyone who ever lived through a home fire, or any other disaster, the death of a child, a life changing experience has had the same feelings come to the same realization. Our lives have changed. Our memories and histories have been stained, scarred, bruised. Our path in life has been redirected. Fortunately, we have been able to climb onto a new path and go forward. It is my desire to wash the mud from my boots, I know the stains will remain. That is okay, the stains will remind me of the generosity of so many, many, people who have brought this farm back to being a productive farm.
We begin 2010 with a rainstorm, but the sun is to be shining on Sunday. The stains will remain but the farm is soon to be fresh with a new lamb crop and the milking season will not be far behind. It is my sincere prayer that as we all make those new resolutions and plans for the coming year we wash away the mud that has dried, and recognize that the stains that remain are there to learn from. I will wear my stained boots with pride as I walk down that new path but I am ready for the mud to be gone.

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