Saturday, November 10, 2007

Val, our Somerset sheep farming friend came to stay the night recently, bringing a spinning wheel as a present and a hand-powered roller wool carding machine to try out. Before it turned dark, we asked her to cast her expert eyes over our various animals. Tout de suite she pronounced our pigs too fat and our sheep too thin but we scored well with our four geese, just as well as they were due for slaughter that Friday. When I showed her what we fed our two pigs on, she just laughed. She has three similar pigs, also born in March, which she reckons are half the size. But ours our bigger all round, not just fatter, so perhaps they are well nourished, if a bit overenthusiastically.

As for the thin sheep, it’s not so easy to notice, as their woolly coats are growing ever thicker, but she advised that we worm them and start feeding hay. We change their paddock every month, which should reduce the level of intestinal worms and we’re interested to learn more about maintaining animal health without routinely dosing with drugs (see my blog of 15th September) but, for this year, I was happy to take Val’s advice and administer the worming medicine. The weather has been bad for hay this year, so we stocked up with four huge round bales of hay cut back in May; we just needed a device to keep it dry in the field for them to nibble on demand. On the scale that we’re doing things here, it’s neither appropriate nor affordable to run down to the agricultural suppliers every time we need something. The sheep went hungry for a few more nights while I slept with my thinking cap on. I ended up looking at agricultural suppliers on the Internet and copying designs and dimensions down into my notebook, helpfully even getting the bar spacing for small sheep like our Ouessants. All of the wood was recycled and the only things I paid for were one panel of corrugated fibreglass for the roof and two bungee straps to hold it down.

Knowing that Val was coming, Gabrielle had carefully (so as not to prematurely produce felt) washed a fleece using a solution made with soda crystals first, then soap twice and rinsed several times. Dried in the sun, this was ready for a trial of Val’s carding machine. Once she’d “tried” it, Gabrielle didn’t stop and, before Val left after breakfast the following day, the entire fleece had been turned into sweet-smelling, soft “rollogs” of wool. She plans to turn these into felt and the felt into clothes. It’s our first time for any of this and the fleece was the result of our first attempt at sheep shearing, all very satisfying.