The week-long birth

Here is the story of Clarissa’s last week of pregnancy.  Clarissa is 7 years old, quite chubby, has bad feet (hooves that just don’t look right and occasional lameness), and has beautiful shiny white wool that we really like.

Tuesday Feb 21:  I notice a pink protrusion that doesn’t resemble a birth sac when Clarissa stands up.  Oh no, I have seen this before–the start of a prolapse.  Not surprising, as Clarissa is enormously wide with lambs.  Just a month ago when we trimmed wool and checked udders for signs of pregnancy, she had no udder to speak of and I wondered if she was pregnant.  Now there is little doubt.  I call the vet and Dr. Steve discusses options for home treatment.  Get her off the hill, reduce her feed (to free up abdominal space), and push the protrusion back in if it doesn’t go itself.  I push the darn thing in hourly all day  (always bathing it with an antiseptic solution and wearing a glove) until 4 pm, when it magically seems to stay put all the way till the next morning.

Wednesday – Monday:  Same thing.  We put her in a lambing pen and gave her the south end of the corral as her own space.  We confined Willow with her for a few days so she would not be lonely. Gave her small amounts of alfalfa and grain a few times a day.  Sometimes the prolapse stays in for several hours, sometimes it is out every time we check.  Allowed her on pasture one day and the next morning she was in agony with the largest protrusion yet.

Monday Feb 27:  I call the Vet again and arrange for a farm visit on Wednesday.  The plan is for Dr. Megan to help us determine whether to induce the birth with medications or to manually remove the lambs or to keep waiting.  Monday night, Clarissa seems to be in heavy labor at the bedtime check.  So I get all the birth-assisting supplies and climb in to the pen only to find the prolapse.  I don one of those shoulder-length vet gloves and use my whole forearm to replace the tissues.  This is not fun for either of us, but I don’t feel it is right to leave her with her innards on the outside.

Tuesday Feb 28:  Having introduced I don’t know how many germs into her body, I call the vet again.  I ask if we can move the visit to today, but the schedule is too tight.  I ask for advice.  Dr. Steve and Dr. Megan confer, and Dr. Megan calls me back.  She says that the best option is to hang on until the visit tomorrow, to continue what we are doing and hope that the birth happens soon.   I watch Clarissa closely all morning, noting her activities.  She is somewhat perky–for her.  She waddles out to the pasture and stands next to the fence to commune with the rest of the flock.  She stops every 20 feet or so, experiences a contraction of some sort, then keeps going.  She rubs her head on the fences, takes big drinks at the water trough, and mostly stays on her feet.  When she lies down, she immediately has big contractions–but when I check her, there is nothing protruding.  About 1:30 I begin to realize that this is labor.  She is licking her lips, sniffing the ground where she last laid down and some fluids escaped, and when she lies down there are big pushing contractions.  I get my gloves on and look.  No prolapse.  I decide to gently push my fingers into the opening to see what I feel.  I feel a big NOSE, right there, just inside the opening!  Oh my gosh!  Where are the feet–lambs are supposed to emerge in diving position, nose resting on front legs.  I feel around the nose and discover one foot, two feet.  Clarissa is panting and pushing.  I grab the feet and the lamb pulls one of them back.  I lose my grip and Clarissa TAKES OFF, out of the pen.  Of course I should have tied the gates closed before I started this, but I just wasn’t expecting to find a lamb right there at the door, so to speak.  I race behind Clarissa, holding on to the feet, and ultimately the legs extend outward.  Back in the pen, I am trying to gently pull downward, but everything seems so STUCK, and I am thinking this lamb will DIE if I don’t get it out of here soon because for sure the cord will be crimped.   Clarissa is straining, I am holding on to those legs and trying to ease the vagina open around the nose, and head.  At last, the forehead pops through.  In seconds, the lamb is lying in the straw.  I wipe fluids from the lamb’s nose and drag the HUGE lamb up near his mother so she can smell and lick him.  She knows exactly what to do, and industriously licks him for the next half hour.

When I get the chance, I weigh him:  13 1/2 pounds, a gigantic lamb!  I dip his navel in iodine to prevent infection.  Finally, I show him where his mama’s teat is, even while she is lying down.  He clamps on immediately.  Here is a video of this lamb’s very first feeding.  Turn your volume on–you will not believe how vigorous he is.

This little boy is so big I can’t imagine she would have another.  The spent umbilical cord is hanging out of her, indicating that the placenta will be birthed next.  So I take a break–clean up, replace all the lambing supplies where they belong, make myself a cup of coffee.  John arrives home just as I am returning to check on the mom and baby.  It’s 3:30.  I tell him all about the birth, and as we stand there watching, Clarissa lies down and begins straining.  At first I think it is the afterbirth she is trying to deliver.  But the straining goes on, BIG contractions. A “water balloon” emerges, indicating that another lamb is on the way.  Clarissa strains mightily, then gets up for a few minutes.  Repeats this  several times.  I can see a nose, then part of a forehead, inside the water balloon.  Again, where are the feet?  It seems these lambs are so big that their feet can’t come through along with their noses.  I put on a glove and climb in to the pen to see if I can help.  Sure enough, the feet are tucked in under the lamb’s chin.  A couple of quick tugs on slippery legs, and the whole head comes through.  The rest of the body slides gently out.  This lamb is covered with the mysterious yellow dye that one twin often displays.  It is a girl, and weighs the same as her brother, 13 1/2 pounds.  Clarissa is exhausted.  She licks for a few seconds, then seems to doze off.  I give her another ounce of propylene glycol, just small amounts at a time so she doesn’t cough or choke.  She perks up.  Within minutes the little yellow ewe is scrambling to her feet and demanding something to eat.  In this picture you can see the pink umbilical cord.  The lamb seems to have landed in some alfalfa, which is decorating her right side.  She is not yet 5 minutes old.

In the evening when I check on them, all three are on their feet.  Mama turns to one lamb and sniffs, then starts to lick.  A few seconds later she sees the other lamb, and starts to lick that one.  This is repeated over and over, and is the reason we pen mothers up with their lambs for a couple of days.  I help the little girl find the teat and she latches on fiercely!

At bedtime check, Clarissa is resting comfortably with both lambs curled up against her.  The second afterbirth (yes, there were two!) has been delivered, removed and buried.

What a day.  I am so relieved for Clarissa.  And for us.  So thankful for healthy lambs and good mothers.

Wednesday, March 1:  Dr. Megan came at 2 pm, expecting to deal with a prolapsing pregnant ewe.  I had called the vet’s office to let her know that the lambs had arrived and to ask that the appointment be kept so that she could check Clarissa for any after-effects.  It was delightful to show her these beautiful lambs.  She examined Clarissa carefully and concluded that all is well, no evidence of infection or illness.

Friday, March 3:  Clarissa and her lambs were released from their pen this morning.  They went to the front pasture for an hour, then returned to the barn for a rest.  When I went to check on them, I found the boy sprawled flat on the ground, sound asleep from the exertion of his trip to the pasture, and the little girl perched comfortably on top of her mother.  Clarissa clearly feels so much better with her lambs out!

A tragic loss

On December 11th, 2016, we were reminded that we share our land and our life with many creatures who have lived in this environment for many generations.  John went out to feed the sheep their breakfast and found Reyna, our beautiful 2015 ewe, lying on her back dead.  She was in the corral, gates closed, and all the rest of the sheep were untouched.  But Reyna had been killed and dragged several feet.  Apparently her killer had intended to move her to a more sheltered space to feed off her.  Perhaps the killer slipped away when John opened the door; perhaps the dog had barked when he noticed activity in the corral–at any rate, the killer was not around.  Stunned, we studied the dead sheep and the surrounding area, wondering what kind of creature could have done this.  A coyote would not have been able to drag the sheep. Any dog-like creature would have chased, and all the sheep would be showing signs of stress.  This had been a silent killer.

My sister Cathi and I studied the muddy ground nearby, and she was the first to spot the tracks.

Still shocked, I called the vet’s office.  I wanted to know if anyone had reported predators in our area, and I wanted to know if I should call anyone to report our loss.  They had not heard of any recent predator losses, but suggested I call the Department of Fish and Wildlife.  An hour later, Bud Weaver, tracker for the Department, confirmed our suspicions:  this was the work of a cougar.

The most amazing thing is, two hours later, Bud and his hounds had treed and shot the cougar.  He was not a healthy-looking animal and we do not have lovely pictures of him.  This is the first and only time I have seen a cougar in the 31 years we have lived here.

First Lambs of 2017

On Sunday the 19th, we were home all day doing farm chores, weaving and spinning.  When I went to the barn to feed the sheep their dinner, I found Raven standing near a newborn lamb, licking and calling to it.  In anticipation we had already set up a lambing pen, so it was very easy to get this experienced mother and her baby into the nearby pen.  John just picked up the wet lamb, held it under mama’s nose, and walked backward into the pen.  20 minutes later Raven took a quick break from lamb-licking to lie down and deliver its twin (a few grunts and three pushes was all it took).  Two boys, both white, 12 and 11 1/2 pounds.  A classic, easy birth and a great way to start the 2017 lambing season.  We had hoped for a natural colored ewe lamb, but we’re happy to have these healthy little guys.  The one on the right is less than 5 minutes old in this picture.


Late winter weaving

John continues to work on two projects, one at home and one at the Damascus Fiber Arts School.  The tightly packed rugs take many months to complete.  In this photo you can see how John’s architectural drafting skills contribute to his weaving.  He takes plenty of time to create the design, then prints out several copies so he can try different color schemes.  There are always adjustments to be made once the weaving it underway, but it’s essential to start with a good plan.

IMG_1247 - Copy


The challenges at the floor loom seem a bit different.  I decided to weave a “leftovers” piece, using leftover yarns from John’s tapestries for the weft and some finely spun two-ply dark brown weft yarn made from Jan and Jeff Jacqua’s Jacob fleeces.  I planned to space the warps wide–4 per inch–to give the thick Romney yarns lots of room to celebrate their color and texture.  I use a spreadsheet rather than a drawing to record all the yarns and determine the sequence of colors and treadling patterns that I will use.  With this weaving, after two inches I knew I needed to rethink my plan.  Rather than packing it firmly, I decided to lay the yarns in very gently, allowing a lot of space in both directions.  Here is what it looked like on the loom.



On the loom, this piece was sett at 42 inches wide and the warp was 3 yards long.  Off the loom, it quickly pulled in to 35 inches wide.  But once it was fulled (washed in very warm water and hung to dry), its character changed.


Now just 27 inches wide, the fabric is very thick and the twill patterns are less evident.  I was determined not to worry about “what it is.”  But looking at the fabric, I am thinking of a couple of big couch pillows with these beautiful colors.  And here they are.  I left the fringes on and rolled up an old feather pillow inside each one, then hand-stitched the bolster-type pillow.


Lambs arrive!

In January, we give the ewes a booster shot to prevent overeating diseases, and we check their bellies and udders to assess how close they are to having lambs.  With hand shears, we cut away some of the wool that can make the udder hard for baby lambs to find.  This year, we  noted that a few ewes were observed consorting with Robert in early and mid October.  Add five months and you can predict that lambs will arrive in March.

Sure enough, they did:  all but one arrived within 10 days of each other, then there was a gap of about three weeks until the very last baby was born to a first-time mother.  We have six females and two males.  All were good sized, generally over 10 lbs.  However, we lost two big, apparently healthy lambs during the birth process.  Most likely they got stuck and the cord was pinched.  Life on the farm definitely has its ups and downs.

Rebecca and her twins
Rebecca and her twins
A pack of lambs with a watchful ewe nearby. 2-3 weeks old.
A pack of lambs with a watchful ewe nearby. 2-3 weeks old.

Winter is for knitting

I (Marilyn) am not an accomplished knitter.  It has to be simple or I will be ripping it out over and over, especially since I only knit when watching TV.  I so admire beautiful lace and cables, but I stick to the basics.  I managed to knit a new hat, three pairs of finger-less gloves, and a vest, all with hand-spun yarn.  Knitting side-to-side goes quickly and produces vertical stripes, which are necessary for my shape!

A selfie of the new vest.
A selfie of the new vest.

Spinner’s Retreat

For several years, the Northwest Regional Spinner’s Association local chapter has organized a retreat early in January.  Lyn Ward, our wonderful president, took the lead to find venues, make all the arrangements, and manage the registration.  It’s been held in the cabins at Silver Falls State Park for a couple of years, but this year we went to the Alton Collins Center near Eagle Creek. There is no agenda other than spinning and relaxing for a weekend in the company of some wonderful people.  Here is proof:

Catherine showing off her beautiful art yarn
Catherine showing off her beautiful art yarn with Cydne looking on
Two happy spinners and all their gear--Shelia and Loyce
Two happy spinners and all their gear–Shelia and Loyce





Rugs on the floor

John has increased the size of his weaving projects, and the results aren’t mats, they are small rugs.  Two now reside upstairs in our study and bedroom.  They don’t slip when laid over carpet.  Each rug represents many months of spinning, dyeing and weaving, not to mention the sheep’s year-long efforts to grow the wool.

From a bird to a turtle
From a bird to a turtle

This rug was inspired by an embroidered bird motif made by Pueblo people.  But when daughter Tracy saw it she exclaimed, “It’s a turtle!”

After Zapotec #2
After Zapotec #2

This dark blue rug is one of a pair that were inspired by the Zapotec weaving style of Mexico.  On the bed is a blanket Marilyn made using the floor loom and a “summer and winter” weave structure.  She thinks of it as “Windowpanes.”

Pumpkin Harvest 2014

It was a beautiful day for the October pumpkin harvest and as always, we had family and friends out to pick the pumpkins, wash the mud off, draw straws to determine the order of selection, then choose pumpkins to take home.  After we harvest, we have some hearty harvest soup and then load the cars.

Aunt Tracy with Stefan and Anna studying something!
Aunt Tracy with Stefan and Anna studying something!
Busy harvesters
Busy harvesters

Stormy times

On the day before John was to depart for Australia for his annual family visit, a wind storm struck.  We had plenty of warning, and spent time taking down our umbrellas and making sure there were no loose garden implements that could fly around in the wind.  We rounded up our headlamps and made sure they were working.  We should have filled several buckets with water for washing and flushing, because in these parts, high wind = no power, and no power = no pump to retrieve water from the well.  It was fine for the first 6 or 8 hours:  we cooked excellent meals on the grill outside and boiled water for tea.  We found ways to spin and weave with our headlamps on.  But when there was still no power the next morning, we were missing our showers.  Buckets of rainwater heated slowly on the stove provided a pretty good substitute.  You can live without power, but it changes the pace of things–which is not terrible except that the rest of the world which is not without power seems to be spinning at a much faster rate and sometimes it is hard to step onto that moving walkway.  Nevertheless, we made it to the airport and John is on his way to see his mother and sisters.  Given that over 70,000 people lost power, we were grateful that ours was restored in just 24 hours.

weaving by headlamp
weaving by headlamp

Sales of flock & fiber

This year we realized we have more sheep than we need.  We had 9 or 10 breeding ewes and expected they would all have lambs, but 5 of the 6 yearlings also produced lambs.  And the fleeces from all these lovely animals were filling the studio.  Marilyn spent the summer washing fleece after fleece.  John sold a few fleeces to his fellow weavers, and Marilyn sold some fleeces and some roving at her summer spinner’s retreat.  But still, there was a mountain of fleece in the studio.  We were determined to reduce our flock to 6 breeding ewes and to market our fleeces.

A ride in the truck
A ride in the truck

For us, sometimes the best way to market live animals is to load them all into the truck and take them to the auction yard.  Shearer Beth had taken five lambs, but we still had some older ewes and additional lambs that needed to go to market.  So one Sunday afternoon we loaded all these fine animals into the truck and off they went.  Prices were good that week, and now our flock is down to just 12 animals. 4 of those are market lambs that will ultimately go into the freezer, leaving us with a flock of 8.

We’ve never tried to sell fleeces at the big gatherings.  But the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival makes it easy.  You just show up Sunday morning with your table and your fleeces, pay an entrance fee, and the people start coming at 9:00.  We had five fleeces, all washed, with shiny white locks and nice information sheets that told the weight off the sheep, after skirting, and after washing.  Three were lamb fleeces, one was from Robert the ram, and one was a ewe’s fleece.  At 10:00 we still had them all and I began to worry.  Were there too many Romney fleeces to choose from?  Were the other fleeces less expensive–I had not spied on the competition to find out what they were charging.  Did people only want the exotic Wensleydales and Jacobs?  But it turns out other people shop like I do–they walk around and look at everything, then plunge.  By noon all our fleeces were gone and we were heading for home.  Income from wool sales this year:  about $500.  Income from flock sales:  about $1000.  Beautiful woven rugs, shawls, knit items:  can’t value them.  Home grown lamb in the freezer:  yummmmm.



Garden results

What wonderful tomato-onion-kalamata olive salads we had, night after night!  Tasty fresh broccoli, grilled zucchini, bell peppers, green beans, and corn.  Then there were the pears, the beets, the blackberries, more tomatoes, corn and beans, hot peppers–all to be processed and stored for later.  The warm dry summer meant that we were surprised at times: abundant tomatoes, but not very big.  Failed crops of strawberries and raspberries but gallons of wild blackberries.  Having a garden is always an interaction between the human, the climate, the soil, the plants themselves, and all the other creatures large and small who want to consume those plants.

Seasoned Tomato Sauce and Pears