Monday, February 28, 2011

Panda off to Canada...

Jammers is a beautiful Natural-Colored Merino ewe...  she won numerous awards for us in 2009 including Champion Natural Colored Fine Wool Ewe, Reserve Champion Natural Colored Ewe, and she had the Champion Natural Colored fleece at the Michigan State Fair.  In the fall of 2009, she was bred to an exceptional black Merino ram and we had high hopes for what she would produce at lambing time.

It was a cold night in March of 2010 and we watched as Jammers went into labor...  After she pushed out her water bag, we saw two white feet appear followed by a pink nose.  Wayne and I were a little bit dissapointed when we didn't see the black lamb we had expected.  We had done everything possible to ensure color!  More than anything else we were hoping for a healthy lamb, but color would have been really nice.

Our momentary dissapointment immediately turned to amazement as we watched the rest of the lamb emerge from the birth canal...
Here was a lamb we could never have imagined...  He had amazing color, beautiful conformation, and personality to boot.
Jammers was an excellent mother and Panda (named for his Panda-like facial markings) quickly grew into an exceptional ram.
Wayne took the young ram to the 2010 Michigan Fiber Fest and he was right at home with all of the attention.
Panda earned the title of Champion Fine Wool Ram at the 2010 Michigan Fiber Fest and gained many fans during that weekend in August.  One of those fans happened to pass word on to a friend in Canada who was looking for a fine wool ram to cross on his flock.

Bill Stearman of Willow Garden Shetlands in Consecon, Ontario has been working on a breeding project creating Shetland/Cormo crosses and was looking for another ram to further "fine up" the fleeces of the resulting crosses.  Bill thought that Panda might just be the ram he was looking for.
After months of communication, a veterinarian visit, USDA paperwork, green tattoo ink, and a few phone calls, everything was in place for Panda to cross the border into Canada...
Bill drove to our farm yesterday and finally got to meet his new ram in person...  After months of communication I am pretty sure that he not only purchased a new ram, but has a few more people to count as friends - he is a very nice guy.

Ugly Dog's Farm Pandamonium left for Canada this morning...
We wish Bill and Panda all of the best...  We are very happy that Panda has found such a great home, although I must admit that the pasture seemed more than a little empty this afternoon as I fed the boys.  I have a feeling that Panda is one of those special animals that will always have a special place in our hearts.

This past fall, we bred Panda to Annie - another one of those special animals.  I wouldn't expect her to throw the color we had with Panda... but anything she does have will carry the recessive black color gene from him.

Time will tell what gift Panda has left here at Ugly Dog's Farm...
Annie could lamb at any time - tomorrow will be 147 days since they were put together.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Know your Food...

I don't think that enough people really put much thought in to where their food comes from...  Some of our young people today are never exposed to agriculture, and if they are, it is usually a "cleaned-up" or "sanitized" version of farming so as not to expose them to harsh realities that might scar them for life.  I think that is unfortunate.

We give away a lot of "free range" eggs to friends and family.  On more than one occasion we have had people tell us that they won't eat them...  They would rather have the "clean" ones that come from the grocery store.  As though the grocery store version of the egg has been fabricated by scientists wearing sterilized haz-mat suits in a clean-room.  I always say the same thing - "all eggs come out of a chicken's hind end - the only difference is that here you can see what the chicken ate...  you can see what MADE that egg."

It makes me sad to go to a restaurant and to see a kid throwing out half a hamburger.  It's not the kid's fault - they have been handed the "sanitized" version of farming so they haven't really had to face the hard truth that an animal lived and died and became that burger...  Nothing has made me respect my food more than to raise sheep and then to eat them.  Killing and butchering an animal is hard to do...  and it SHOULD be.  Throwing out a hamburger should be just has hard.

Our Amish friends often have some good insight...  they have mentioned before how our "English" young people are on average larger, sexually mature sooner, and are more sedentary than their kids.  We are eating meat and drinking milk from animals what are bred, fed, and medicated to grow larger, sexually mature sooner, and live more sedentary lives...  Is there a connection????

I encourage people to think about what they are eating...  I encourage them to purchase as much of their meats, eggs, and produce from local farms as they can.  Go and meet the farmer and see what the animals eat, how they live, and if you can stomach it - how they die as well. 

We feed our animals locally grown forage, whole grains, and important minerals, we provide them with fresh water, and make sure that they have the best life we can provide. 

I won't pretend that we don't ever eat processed foods and I can't say that we have not purchased meat from a grocery store, but we do make an effort to know our food, to respect our food, and to educate our peers...     I hope some of you may do the same!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Super-Cooled Rain...

At the beginning of the season, we wish for snow...  We sing songs about "Dreaming of a White Christmas", beckon the powers that be to "Let it Snow", and greet "Suzy Snowflake" as she is "tap, tap, tapping" at our window pane.

All it takes is a few white knuckled drives to work, some frigid afternoons spent on the tractor plowing out the drive, and a couple of headers into a pile of snow after slipping on the ice and you are ready for Suzy Snowflake to pack her bags and "thumpity thump" herself down the road with Frosty as he is run out of town.

We got around a foot of "the white stuff" on Sunday night.  It is gorgeous the way it coats the ground in a white blanket and ices the pines and spruces as though they are on the set of the remake of "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer".  While it is beautiful, I am ready for spring rain.

They are calling for another winter storm for this Friday...  After the beautiful "taste of spring" we enjoyed last week, I can hold out for spring rain...  I can keep my chin up (while wrapped in a warm home-spun and hand-woven scarf) knowing that we are almost there...

This Friday when the snow pummels us yet again showing that winter is still here, I will choose to think of it as super-cooled SPRING rain!

Yep, I came up with that ALL on my own.

I guess that makes me...    SUPER COOL!!!!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bulging Bellies...

No folks, I haven't given up on my fitness quest...

The average sheep gestation period is 147 days.  The rams were put in with our first breeding groups 139 days ago...  that means that we could be having our first lambs in just over a weeks time.
Ripped Ear is looking WIDE...

I mentioned before that we used some ram lambs this breeding season.  One of them we got from down south was pretty small and got pushed around quite a bit at first by some of my more dominant ewes.  We will probably have a lot of late lambs out of that breeding group, but by the looks of things we will have some other lambs to keep us busy in the meantime.
Pregnant ladies chewing their cud...

This ewe is looking WIDE...

Annie will be a first time mom and she is getting wide and is growing a nice udder.

They are forecasting a winter storm which could start any time and bring with it a lot of snow and ice.  I sure hope it doesn't mess with my Zumba class tomorrow night...  gotta get my "Z" on!

Stay Warm!!!  Spring is on it's way...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Love the Skin You're in...

I think that once or twice on this blog I have mentioned my love affair with Zumba...  Without wanting to sound like a broken record, I have to tell you once more how much I enjoy this class and how it really has helped me to change my life.

In February, our Zumba instructor offered "Love Yourself" discounts on Zumba classes if you had perfect attendance, posted on Facebook why you love Zumba, guessed the number of classes it would take to burn off a box of chocolates, or posted "before" and "after" pictures of yourself on her Facebook page.

I am all about a discount, but I had to admit that I was a little freaked out about posting a "before" picture...  This reluctance suprised me - what was my hang up?  I mean, anyone who knows me has known me fat and skinny...  they have seen it before.  What was the big deal??? 
After much introspection, I figured out that when I looked at those pictures I didn't see me with some extra pounds...  I saw an "out of control" Rich who I didn't want other people to see.  I love food...  I always will, but I think I ate to battle stress, to pass the time, to fill voids.  

2006 was a very hard year... my horse died, my co-worker became ill and passed away and I had to do both of our jobs while dealing with the loss, then my job moved to India and I was let go after 10 years on the job, my favorite uncle was battling terminal cancer...  It was a horrible time and I ate to find comfort.

Unfortunately that comfort was short lived...  I would put on weight and feel my blood pressure rise, grow too big for my clothes, and feel more out of control...  so I would eat more.  What a vicious circle!
Redefining my mindset on food, running for my health, partying at Zumba - all of these things put me back in control.  I feel healthier...  I have more energy...  I like to feel "in control" of my health.
I realize now that I can't turn my back on who I was - that person has helped to create who I am today... 

I don't want to get out of control again, but I think we should all learn to love the skin we're in...  how can anyone else like us if we don't like ourselves? 

I will always try to be a good, hard working, freakishly handsome, and unbelievably witty guy (I might have to settle for just freakish and unbelievable though).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

King of the Hill, Fruit of the Loom, & Eau de Toilette...

King of the Hill

This afternoon when I pulled in the driveway after driving home from work, there stood Gibbs the donkey on top of the manure pile...  You could tell that he wanted nothing more than for someone to challenge him for his position at the top of the heap.
Donkeys have a playfulness about them that is really endearing...

Fruit of the Loom

We finished scarf #2 on the Leclerc Floor Loom this evening and I think it turned out even nicer than the first one.  Who knew that weaving would be so much fun?!?!
Now I'm not saying that we aren't going to make any more scarfs, but I think it's time to expand our horizons and possibly try a different project...  how many scarfs do we need?!?!?
Maybe a blanket?  A table runner?  A super-hero cape to wear around the farm (with a big Z on the back for ZUMBA-MAN).  The possibilities are ENDLESS!

Eau do Toilette

Every year as winter turns to spring, I am always struck at the sudden change from the beautiful, white, pristine, snow covered landscape to the wet, brown, muddy, manure covered paddocks.  One of the realities of keeping livestock is that they are going to poop...  and poop...  and poop...  In the cold and ice of winter, there is little you can do to clean it up.  Manure is left to accumulate until spring.

Melting snow in winter paddocks does not become puddles of clean, fresh water...  it becomes Eau de Toilet (aka Toilet Water).  Eventually, the ground will thaw and the nutrients in the manure will help to fertilize spring pastures.  In the meantime it is a muddy mess.  I am not complaining though...  it's just another sign that Spring is on the way!

I have seen bottles of "Eau do Toilette" being sold in department stores for some pretty high prices...  I might need to order some little bottles and start filling them up - maybe call it "Scent of Spring"???   Order now - while supplies last!!!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


After a very long stretch of bitter cold winter weather, we are enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures this week. 

I am NOT complaining...  As a matter of fact - I'm lovin' it!

It seems to me that I am not the only one with SpRiNg FeVeR...
This boy thinks it's time to start showing off for the ladies...

Maybe he's been watching me "struting my stuff" around the farm...

His buddy chased him off and told him to back off from the girls...

Their audience looks pretty unimpressed by all of the antics...

This is Michigan... we still have lots of winter left to go, but these warm days are a welcome relief and a great teaser of what's to come.

I got the FeVeR!!!!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Boys Will be Boys...

Today was a beautiful day...  Not only did the temps get above freezing for the first time in a long time, but the high was around 50 degrees!
Ugly Dog's Farm Pandamonium (Panda) - Natural Colored Merino
I mentioned that we are selling a ram to Ontario, Canada.  The buyer had requested some updated pictures so I took shots of all our rams enjoying a break from the bitter cold of winter.  These boys will all be a year old in 2011 and will have their first offspring born very soon.

All of these boys are real characters...

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie...

After such a busy weekend, the dogs seem to have the right idea...
Tomas catching some Sunday Morning ZZZZs

Dogs always seem to know when it is time to reward yourself with a much needed break...
Border Collies holding the chair down...

It won't be long and we'll get ourselves jump started for the day, but in the meantime I think it is best to let sleeping dogs lie...
who said couches weren't for dogs????

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hair, Scarfs, Murder, Hooves, and Tattoos...

We got our haircuts yesterday morning and luckily avoided any head butting...  You asked for pictures of the new "dos" so I will try to post some, but so far haven't taken any pictures of myself that adequately capture my rugged good looks... (meaning that for some reason the pictures look more like ME than Russell Crowe or Brad Pitt).

We finished the first project on the Leclerc Floor Loom and the scarf really turned out well...
There is still quite a bit of warp left on the loom so we started a 2nd scarf.  It is kind of neat how changing the color of the yarn we are using for the weft totally changes the texture and look from the first one...
Yesterday evening we had a great time at a Murder Mystery Dinner put on by the Genesee County Agricultural Society.  They were raising money to benefit the county fair and it was a really nice event.  The food was top notch and we had a great table of people to sit with.  LOTS of fun, a silent auction, and fabulous prizes...  well, prizes anyway.

This morning it was off to Brown City to pick up the Amish guys who were scheduled to come out and trim our horses feet today.  These guys do a great job on the hooves and are really good people.  We have been using them for our horses manicuring needs for nearly 10 years and they work as hard or harder than just about anybody I know. 
My back hurts just watching them work...

Veterinarian Karl Gubert from All Creatures Veterinary Service in Metamora came out this afternoon to do an inspection of our sheep flock...   We are selling a black Merino ram to a someone in Ontario, Canada and one of the import requirements is a flock inspection within 30 days of importation of the animal.  We also had to tattoo the ram's right ear with "USA"...  luckily, we are well versed in tattooing sheep ears because it is a requirement for registering Clun Forest Sheep.

I think that the ram may have preferred "MOM" on his forearm, or maybe a picture of Mickey Mouse on his rump, but he will have to settle for "USA" on his ear.

Perhaps tomorrow, if the lighting is just right, I will be able to get the perfect shot of the new haircut...  in the meantime, rest assured that you aren't missing out on much.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Shear Strangers - A note from a friend...

I know I have told you about my top notch network of "sheep friends" who are always willing to share knowledge and experience.  Well one of those friends emailed me yesterday and wanted me to share a bad shearing experience she had in hopes that someone reading my blog might avoid the same.

Rams can be aggressive SOE's (Sons Of Ewes), not only to people but to other rams.  When introducing rams together, it is a good idea to pen them up in very tight confines so that they don't have enough room to back up and "ram" each other.  Sometimes you get some very dominant boys who will fight to the death if given the opportunity.

In my last post, I mentioned that freshly shorn sheep who have spent their entire lives in the same group don't always recognize each other after being stripped down to their birthday suits.  Remembering this fact when shearing a group of rams can help avoid disaster.  Penning them up tight for a few days is a good idea.

My friend had some rams who had been getting along very well.  She had them sheared and put them out in the same pen they had been in before.  You can imagine her horror when she found one of her best boys dead shortly thereafter from fighting.  Bad things will happen, but the more we know, the more disasters we can avoid.

Wayne and I are both going to get haircuts tomorrow morning  -  I sure hope we recognize each other...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Shear Madness...

I had originally planned to write a more detailed "Shearing Day" blog, but the gruesome discovery on the barn floor that morning turned me into a stressed-out mess for a few days...  I still think that an amended "Shearing Day" posting is in order so here it is...

Preparing for the Shearer -
I think it is important to carefully prepare for your shearer's visit, especially if you ever want them to return!
  • You should have your worming/vaccinations/feet trimming done prior to shearing time OR have enough people there to help so that the shearer is not waiting for you.
  • If you plan to have the shearer do "extras" like shots or foot trimming, arrange it with them ahead of time AND expect to pay for this service.
  • Make sure the sheep are DRY on shearing day...  not only will wet wool not dry once sheared and bagged up, but your shearer will get soaking wet having to handle water-logged sheep.
  • Have your sheep penned up prior to the shearer's arrival...  and don't expect them to catch your sheep for you.
  • Don't feed the sheep before the shearer arrives - believe it or not, handling and manipulating a sheep with an empty stomach is much easier on sheep AND shearer.  A full stomach will not allow the sheep to bend appropriately.
  • Have your supplies ready: bags for wool, broom, garbage bin, coffee or water for the shearer, wound dust, livestock dust...
Have a Plan -
  • Who will catch the sheep, where will the sheep go after shearing, who will bag the wool, who will sweep between sheep?
  • Which sheep will you shear first?  Usually we shear our white sheep first and then the black since we don't want to mix the black fibers in with the white clip, but grade of wool is also a concern.  We shear our white fine wool first, then our black fine wool, followed by our coarser wools.
Here is a diagram of our barn set up for shearing:
click to enlarge

Post Shearing -
  • Dusting your sheep with Livestock Dust after shearing can be a good idea if you have had any issues with mites, ticks, or other bugs.  We don't worry too much in the winter, but do dust our sheep sheared later in the spring.
  • It is inevitable that some sheep will get small cuts - maybe they were wriggling around and the clippers slipped or they have very wrinkly skin that got caught in a blade...  Have wound dust handy, but don't get too worried, the lanolin which sheep produce will likely have them healed in no time.
  • Feed the sheep - their bodies will need to adjust to their new "climate" now that they are nudists...  extra calories will help keep them warm.  Food will also keep them busy as they "meet" all of these strange, naked sheep they think they are just meeting for the first time.
  • Tip your shearer if they have done a great job...  If you think about the hard work they do, it is thankless, dirty, taxing on the body, and they will remember your generosity (even if the tip is lunch or some farm produce).
If you make every effort to be prepared for shearing day, you will end up with happy sheep, a happy shearer, and a good wool clip.

I love shearing day...  it is amazing to watch your sheep go from wooly beasts to slick and clean in a matter of minutes...  and suddenly you have a whole new batch of WOOL to play with or sell!!!

Monday, February 7, 2011


Hindsight is not always 20/20.  Sometimes the past is as much of a mystery as the future, but I'm still absolutely convinced that we can learn valuable lessons from it anyway.

The ewe who lost her lamb is really doing great.  She is feeling good and even jumping around at feeding time - this is a GOOD thing.  All of the other ewes are doing fine and showing no signs that they are having any problems.  I have watched the flock very closely over the last few days and have noticed that one of my old girls is being very agressive at feeding time...

Most of the other ewes stand down to her without argument, but it is entirely possible that the ewe who lost her lamb had been hit broadside by the old bully.  It will probably remain a mystery.

  • In the future, I will not likely introduce two groups of ewes together so late in pregnancy.
  • I do have a very "common sense" vet who is not going to push me to spend money unnecessarily (Teresa pointed this out).
  • Experience continues to make me a more knowledgable shepherd (and hopefully some of you can learn from my experience too).
  • We have some great friends who continue to offer their experience, support, and encouragement (including many readers - thank you!).

Hindsight is not always 20/20.

Hindsound usually indicates that Hindsmell is not far behind.

Hindsmell stinks.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kind of Warped...

No folks, this is not a post about my warped sense of humor... 

I think I have mentioned that Wayne and I have been spinning wool into yarn for a while now.  I didn't expect to enjoy spinning as much as I do, but I find it very relaxing and rewarding.  The problem is that you end up with a bunch of yarn and nothing to do with it!!!  We have sold some and given some away, but with all of the expense and time you have into it, you really want to find a way to use it yourself. 

Wayne received a small Ashford Loom for Christmas 2009 and he made a few projects with it including my awesome Merino Wool Scarf which he gave me for Christmas this year.  This last fall, when he saw a Leclerc Floor Loom on Craigslist for a great price, he brought it home and made a place for it in the computer roomIt is HUGE and has a lot of parts - foot pedals, cranks, mechanical brakes...  It was a little intimidating to think of trying to learn how to use it.
On Saturday, Cathy Phaneuf from Phaneuf Pharm came over and taught us how to warp our loom.  As with most new hobbies, weaving comes with it's own vocabulary and I am learning it slowly.  To "warp" a loom essentially means to "string" it.  The "strings" that run from back to front and through the parts that raise up and down when you press the pedals are called "the warp".  The "strings" or yarn which you weave through the warp are called the "weft".   Don't worry, there will not be a test (I hope).
Cathy showing us how to tie the warp

Cathy is a great teacher...  she broke the very intricate process of warping the loom down into very easy steps and her excitement and love of weaving was infectious.  I learn better from people who are excited about what they are teaching about.

We have spent a few hours since Cathy left on Saturday weaving our first project...  It is going to be a scarf made from handspun yarn in a Pebble Weave pattern with bands of regular weave every 5 inches. 

I did not expect to enjoy weaving...
Progress on our first Floor Loom project

As you push down on different pedals you weave through the "shed"

The "Pebble Weave" pattern we are working from

Our progress (note the band of regular weave near the top which will repeat every 5 inches)