So many things have taken place at Fern Bridge Farm since I last wrote a blog post. I started to write a blog post back in July about preparing the farm for the sheep's arrival, and somewhere along the way it was forgotten and sadly sat unfinished in drafts purgatory. So, without further delay, let me catch you up on all of the news since my last post. Warning: this could be a long one, so be prepared to get comfortable for a good long read!
We finished preparations to the farm in late summer, just in time for the sheep to arrive in August and then again in September. We had a tree that had come down quite a while back and it really needed to go so that we could have even more grazing area for the sheep. Bob fired up the chainsaw, and with his amazing "do-it-all" skills, he had the tree turned into firewood in no time. I helped move branches and logs out of the area with the tractor and within a few hours' time, we had the tree gone and the pasture area that it was smothering, raked and seeded.
Once the tree was out of the way, we could get the perimeter fence installed. Let me just take a minute to tell you about finding gates and fence posts during a pandemic. It seems that when the pandemic (Covid-19) hit, many people decided they wanted to become more self-sufficient and move from the cities and more urban areas to the country to begin a homesteading way of life. I applaud anyone that wants to live this way, it is not an easy way of life but it is very fulfilling, but it led to a shortage of many farming supplies. We had to drive all over Vermont to secure the gates we needed and finally our farm store was able to get the fence posts we needed back in stock. I was beginning to wonder if we would ever have all of the supplies we needed to complete the fence project! But we got it done and we got it done before the sheep arrived, most importantly!
At the same time we were installing the fence, we had the beginnings of the barn addition underway. We called in some local contractors to get the foundation dug and concrete poured, and then Bob and I took over the building of the addition. Let's face it, Bob did 95+% of the barn building, but I'm a fabulous support assistant, helping to lift and steady walls, take measurements, hold tools, and the list goes on!
We had the barn addition finished up before we had to pick up the second round of sheep, so it worked out perfectly! I still have to get paint on the outside, but that will have to wait for warmer days, as I have to scrub the lanolin off the outside from the itchy sheep so that the paint will stick!
In between setting up the fence and building the barn addition, we stocked up on hay for the winter from one of our local farms. We were fortunate to get all of the hay we needed for the winter, as we are now experiencing a hay shortage in Vermont. The weather last year was not ideal for making hay, some farms did ok, but others faced challenges. Now on many of the local forums I watch, I see many people desperately looking for hay to get them through until the pastures are ready for grazing. There are so many factors that you have to take into account when running a farm of any size and so often the weather and climate can pose difficult and sometimes unsurmountable challenges.
We brought the sheep home in two trips, the first in August to Petersholm Farm, where we brought home Tilly, Tara, Brandt, Boris, Fia & Jeni. My friend Carol helped me out with this adventure, driving my car with Tilly and Tara along for the ride and I drove our pickup truck with an animal hauler set up in the back. It was an uneventful trip which I am always glad for! Then in September, Carol and I traveled down to Wing & A Prayer Farm to pick up Pelle, Peregrine & Pearl and as always, had a lovely visit with Tammy and Char and the flocks.
Thanks to Carol and Char for the Pictures!
Once the fence was in, the addition completed, hay in the loft and sheep settled in, it was time to start thinking about breeding the sheep. Many of our sheep were 2020 lambs, and although some sheep farmers will breed their ewe lambs, Shetlands are quite small and don't mature as quickly as other breeds, and I knew that I didn't want to breed any of the ewe lambs. As Peregrine, Pearl and Pelle are too closely related, and Pelle is my only ram, I am working on obtaining a lovely ram that I will be able to breed Peregrine and Pearl to when the time is right. My two older ewes, Jeni and Fia, were ready for a date with Pelle in November. Pelle is young, but since I had just two ewes to breed him to, I knew that he would be up for the task and not overwhelmed with too many ewes to court.
We had the vet out in February and she pregnancy checked both Fia and Jeni using ultrasound and saw multiple embryos for Jeni, and was inconclusive for Fia. Fia could potentially be pregnant, possibly with a single, but as sheep embryos do the majority of their development in the last 4-6 weeks of gestation, it can sometimes be tricky with ultrasound early on.
To keep an eye on things in the barn and not have to disrupt the sheep as much, I did buy a baby monitor that is setup in the barn. I can watch night or day and make sure everyone is well, and keep an eye on the ewes for any signs of labor as the time gets closer! Thankfully my barn is about 100 feet or so from my house, so I've got a decent signal and receive good quality video on my receiver.
In mid-March, I had the sheep shorn by the good folks at Yankee Rock Farm. Siri and Colin are kind with the sheep and do a fine job shearing. Of course, in Vermont, we had a cold snap after the sheep were shorn and everyone had to stay inside for a couple of days, but it wasn't long and we had beautiful spring days. I'll be posting a couple raw fleeces for sale in the next few days, one of which will be Pearl's fleece, it is absolutely gorgeous and will be a joy to work with. I will also be sending wool off to the mill to be processed into roving, so all of you spinners and felters, keep an eye on the website as I will list that fiber as soon as I get it back from the mill.
The only things left to do were to vaccinate the sheep with their CD/T vaccine and to separate the pregnant ewes from the younger, more rambunctious ewes. With Bob's help, I vaccinated the pregnant ewes last week, they are both shy girls, not overly fond of being handled or in the company of people, so it was a bit of a time. Jeni did pretty well, but Fia jumped as I was part-way into administering the vaccine so she did end up with a bit of a knot. We try to handle the pregnant ewes as gently and infrequently as possible once we are closing in on their due dates. Now that they are vaccinated, there is little to do except watch and wait! This morning, before heading in for my off farm job, I separated their paddock and barn area so that the young yearling ewes are separate from the pregnant ewes. This will allow the pregnant ewes some respite before they are due to deliver lambs and will allow me to better keep an eye on their nutrition levels as well as monitoring their behavior for signs of impending labor without having to disturb them.
Since this is our first year lambing, there were so many things to remember and setup and purchase to make sure we had everything on had if we needed it. Thankfully our vet isn't too far away (under an hour), so fi we end up needing assistance we should be set. I am also fortunate to know many shepherds in the area, and one thing I've learned about shepherd's is that they are always willing to help another shepherd when called upon.
That about sums up life on the farm for the last 8-10 months, so you can see we have been busy with so many things to occupy our time! I hope to get another post up after lambing is complete, so stay tuned for that in late April!