New Additions #2: Lambs!

It should not surprise you that I have added some new lambs to the farm this year... My little fiber flock isn't so little any more. There are now 17 sheep in that "little" flock. The newest lambs have added some great breed combinations and beautiful natural colors and textures that will be fun to watch evolve over the next year. 

2017 New Lambs: Phlox, Laurel, Blue, Penny, Rosebay, and Violet

2017 New Lambs: Phlox, Laurel, Blue, Penny, Rosebay, and Violet

Six lambs have joined us this summer. The naming theme for this year is Colorado Native Wildflowers, so they all have long, silly, botanical names and nicknames that I'm going to call them by.

Five of the six new arrivals come from the same farm. The shepherdess of the farm is a dear friend and one of the best fiber producers around; she always wins at all the fiber festivals she enters. She moved out of Colorado this summer and couldn't take all of her nearly 300 sheep with her, so I jumped at the chance to get my hands on some of her gorgeous stock before they were gone from this area. The first two girls to join the flock were Rosebay Willow Herb ("Rosebay") and Mountain Blue Violet ("Violet"). They are twin CVM/ Merino cross sisters that needed to be bottle-raised and I can never say no to a bottle lamb! They are an interesting pair because Rosebay is pure white and Violet, except for the white on her head, is pure black. Their wool will be super fine and I'm excited to add some Merino to the flock.

Next, three more ewe lambs came from that farm after they were weaned. Field Pennycress ("Penny") is another CVM/ Merino cross, but she is a beautiful moorit color. Mountain Bluebell ("Blue") is a white Blue Faced Leicester/ Teeswater/ Wensleydale cross and Mountain Laurel is a grey BFL/ Wensleydale. I know... the crosses sound crazy, but I have never seen fleeces like theirs before. My friend had been working on these combinations specifically for handspinners and their fleeces are amazing! Don't you love Laurel's characterstic BFL bunny ears?

Last, little Prairie Phlox ("Phlox") joined us. He is another Leicester Longwool from the same farm that my other two came from. He is white, so now I have both white and colored Leicesters here. Phlox has a little grey spot behind one ear that popped out in his white fleece, so he wasn't going to be breed-able. He got wethered and I was happy to have him come stay with us!

When I brought sheep to the farm, I started with just five. I wanted to start small, be able to learn about raising sheep and producing fiber on a small scale. That first year was a crash course in sheep husbandry... a bottle lamb, a wether that was actually only half-wether (and had to be made full-wether right in my corral), and my first shearing. I learned so much about these special animals and their fiber. This is now my third summer with sheep and I have been adding color and texture variation, different breeds, and products since. I am so glad that I started small, gave myself room to grow and learn, and meet incredible mentors. 

Newest Additions #1: Ducks!

There have been some new additions on the farm this summer that each deserve their own update. First up... Ducks!

We have had chickens since we moved to the farm four (five?) years ago and they have been such an integral part of our little homestead. Their sweet noises, pretty plumage, and delicious eggs were my first introduction to caring for livestock and gave me confidence that I could do this Farm Girl thing. This summer, I decided it was time to diversify the flock and brought home some little ducklings! Not only are they the cutest things you will ever see, but duck eggs are great for baking. They are larger than chicken eggs, have a higher yolk-to-white ratio making them higher in fat content, and they make baked goods fluffy and rich. 

The two girls in the first pictures are Welsh Harlequins that we named Eleanor and Fay. I decided on this breed because they are reported to be calm and friendly, they are great egg layers, and I think they are really pretty. After those two girls came in the mail, I stopped by the feed store and just take a guess what they had there?!?... Little (female) Magpie ducklings! Well, they were so cute and what was one more duckling in the brooder, right? One Magpie duckling came home with me that day and I named her Mona. "She" was a little bigger than the Harlequins, but "she" was also supposed to be a week or so older... makes sense, right?

The three ducks grew, feathered out, and moved outside. Everything was going great until I looked out the window recently and noticed one, little, curly feather right on the top of the Magpie's tail... OH NO! "She" is a "he," my hen is a drake, Mona is actually "Mo!" Sigh... these things happen, I suppose! So far, Mo is getting along alright, but he isn't sexually mature yet. I am going to keep my eye out for overly aggressive behavior towards both duck and chicken hens. Keep your fingers crossed!

News from the Farm

Long time, no see!

Oh my gosh, it has been SOOO long since I wrote anything here! The truth is, I have been working on building the farm into a tiny, small, minuscule business and am finally now off and running. Farming, raising animals, and producing products from that labor takes a long time and the learning curve is steep. There have been some changes around here- new animals, new products, new plans, and even more on the To Do List that haven't begun yet- and I will pledge to do better updating this blog to reflect them all! 

Actually, I am much better at keeping up with Instagram, so please do check me out there for much more regular news updates, pictures from the farm, and product information. I have also just opened my Etsy shop!! I have yarns from last year's wool crop posted there including yarn from Sunday, Solstice, August, and Spring's lamb fleeces. I also just sent about half of our 2017 fleeces to the mill last week and will expect them back in about 6 weeks. The rest of the fleeces need to be skirted and sent to the mill for processing soon too.Once I get those back, I'll post some yarn for sale from them too ASAP.

Posts to stay tuned for in the near future: 2017 fleeces and yarn, newest knitting projects, and stories about the newest animals on the farm including a rescued pup, a duck that was supposed to be a girl, and new lambs!  

The House Animals

So far, I have introduced all the outside animals, but we have a house-full too! First, the German Shepherd, Argos. He is just over two-years-old and is the self-designated Farm Protector. He LOVES his sheep, goats, and chickens and is always on guard to make sure they are safe. I feel safer out in the country with him around too, but Hilda doesn’t like him so much…

Argos is protective, but isn’t dominant or head strong like some GSDs. He is super smart, really sweet, and a great farm buddy. We take walks all around the farm with the lamb and goats. In fact, the goats follow him when he runs ahead instead of me. German Shepherds are herding dogs, originally bred for herding and protecting sheep in large pastures. They were to act as living fences by keeping the herds of sheep together and where they were supposed to be while protecting them from predators. Argos hasn’t had any training as a herding dog, but he does like to get the chickens in a tight circle when given the opportunity. He runs circles around them to keep them together and, if one gets out of the circle, he hurriedly leaves to bring her back to the group. I’m sure you can imagine that the chickens get tired of this pretty quickly.  

We also have two cats, Oliver and Lester. My husband came with Lester and I came with Oliver. They live inside, but enjoy the smells and sounds the farm provides. Oliver runs the place and even keeps Argos in line.

Last, but not least is Ben, the Meyer’s Parrot. He is the cutest bird in the whole world and spends his days imitating the oven timer beep, watching TV in the living room, and getting his head scratched. His favorite music includes Billy Idol and his favorite past time is helping wrap Christmas presents by ripping up wrapping paper scraps.

That’s everyone on Hollyhock Farm! 

The Chickens

The chickens were my first introduction to farming, as they are for many people. I can’t say enough good things about keeping chickens. They are easy to care for, produce delicious eggs (once you have a farm-fresh egg, you can’t ever have anything else), they clean up kitchen scraps, contribute to the compost pile, and they are beautiful! They make the sweetest noises, are fun to watch peck around the farm, and have distinct personalities. What more could you want in a farm animal?

As I said in my Sheep post, I prioritize rare and heritage breeds on the farm and that goes for chickens too. Among other breeds, I have Buff Orpingtons, Silver-Laced Wyandottes, Black Australorps, Light Brahmas, and Barred Plymouth Rocks. My favorite breed is the Speckled Sussex, though. I have three Speckled Sussex hens and they are calm, friendly, curious, and great layers. After every yearly molt, they become more and more speckled too. They really have everything that you could want in a chicken.

I like to buy my chicks from online retailers and pick them up at the post office when they are two days old. You can also get chicks from local feed stores or other farms. Either way, raising chicks is so fun and allows you to tame the birds while they are young. I don’t keep a rooster, but that is obviously a way to replenish your flock without having to raise the chicks yourself- just get a mama hen to do it! You can get the most interesting chicks with a “farm mix” for different hen and rooster breeds. Obviously, hatching eggs on the farm will give you a 50/50 split of girl and boy chicks, so this is a good plan if you want to harvest the boys for the freezer. If you buy from an online store, you can choose to get only pullets (young hens), only cockerels (young roosters), or a mix of both. We only keep hens around the farm and I don’t keep chickens for meat. If my girls free ranged further from the house than they do, I would probably get a rooster to protect them. 

If anyone is dreaming about homesteading, check out the zoning in your area and get a few chickens. There is no better way to get a little farming in your life and you will fall in love with them!

The Llama

Coyotes are the bane of my existence. I hear them at night calling to each other in the dark. I jump out of bed, throw on some clothes, wake the German Shepherd, and run outside to yell into the pitch black field behind the house, “HEY, HEY, HEY, COYOTES!!!,” and wait for the calling to stop. Then, I go back inside, get in bed, and usually hear the same chorus a few minutes later, put my clothes back on, and go back outside to yell some more. One day, I saw an adult coyote right in the middle of the road, bold as brass, in full daylight, stalking a magpie not a mile from my house! Coyotes will kill a full grown sheep, let alone a little lamb. A neighbor of mine stopped keeping sheep 20 years ago because of all the animals he was losing to coyote attacks and another neighbor had all of her chickens killed by one just a few months ago. Of all the things I worry about, coyotes are at the top of the list.

A farmer can do a lot of things to protect their flock from predators. We have a 5-6 foot fence around the corral and I have motion sensor lights on all night around the house. Like I said, the dog and I barely sleep at night, listening for anything suspicious outside. Despite all this, I was still so anxious about my precious sheep’s safety that I started to look into other protection methods- guard animals! Some common ones are dogs, of course, but they have to live outside and aren’t really pets. Having a working, non-pet dog on the farm didn’t really fit our lifestyle. People also use donkeys and, with my equine background, I did consider this for a while.

Eventually, I decided on a guard llama for my sheep. I have shepherd friends with llamas that swear by them and I had read that they are very effective against predators, reducing or stopping loss of livestock from attacks. Gelded (castrated) males used to be recommended, but more and more people are finding that female llamas are great too because of their maternal instinct and bonding potential with small livestock. Llamas are alert, intelligent, brave, and will alert the shepherd if they suspect an intruder. They will sometimes even stand their ground against one or attack them back! What really sealed the deal for me is that llamas can also make beautiful fiber.

Not long after I decided a llama was the right guard animal for me, an ad came up on Craigslist for a single female llama that was being recommended as a guardian. A vet had recommended this vocation for her because of how alert she is and because she seemed to be happy living with the goats she was with. This poor llama had come from a neglect situation. Her home had been repossessed and, when the new owners showed up to move in, she and two other llamas had been left there with no one to care for them when the original owners moved out. She and the others were moved to a farm down the road from me so that they could be cared for while they found a new home.

As soon as I saw her, I knew she was for me. She is haughty and regal. She looks down her nose at you and glares through her long lashes. She spits big, green globs at you if you get too close or try to catch her (in fact, the folks that rescued her had named her “Tsunami”). I just love her!

She was a mess when I first saw her because of the sad situation she was coming from, but has since been sheared and is all clean now. I named her Hildegarde, “comrade in arms” in German, and we call her Hilda. She is a Suri llama, the rarer of the two kinds. Suris have almost no crimp to their fiber and it is soft, fine, and hangs in long, independent locks. This is as opposed to the Huacaya llamas, which are more common and have more crimp to their fiber, making them look fluffy. I have her beautiful fleece and, even though it is pretty dirty, I am planning to send it to a mill for processing soon. I’ll post pictures ASAP!

Despite the fact that she is a working animal and doesn’t need to be friendly, I work with her on her halter skills often so that she can be led easily in case she needs medical care, etc., and also so that she can learn that not all humans are going to hurt her. She LOVES to go for walks and is naturally curious and smart… the green, fresh grass she gets on walks helps too. This has really helped and she is getting better and more trusting every day.

When she was found, she was with an intact male llama, so she may or may not be pregnant. I asked the vet if I should get her pregnancy checked, but she said that would stress her out. As long as she is getting good quality food and is up to date on her vaccinations, I don’t need to do anything differently whether she is pregnant or not. Their gestation period is 11 months and I have read that it is very hard to tell if they are pregnant just by looking at them, so I’m hoping I’ll walk out to the corral one day to find a little llama! Either way, she LOVES the lambs and baby goats, is gentle and patient with the sheep, always scanning the fields and road for intruders, and has found her forever home guarding my sheep at the farm.

The Goats

Next on the list to introduce you to are the little goats! These sisters were born on March 17th this year and are from a group of quintuplets. These two were put on a bottle so that Mama Goat could focus on feeding the other three! We got them when they were almost a month old and continued to bottle feed them for a few more weeks.

The farm has always been my dream and my husband has always gone with the flow. “Happy wife, happy life,” right? He was never opposed to any of it, but none was it was his idea…. Until he saw these two girls. We were at another farm nearby looking at the llama that I would eventually adopt to guard my sheep flock (that is another story) and these two goat girls were there. We left with a commitment to take the llama that day, but my husband secretly wanted to leave with the goats too. A few days later, I saw the two girls advertised for sale on Craigslist and, for fear that they would go to another farm, I went and picked them up as a birthday present for him that day.

These two are registered Nigerian Dwarf Goats. They are a miniature dairy breed and originally came from West Africa. The Nigerian Dwarf Goat Association says that does (females) should not exceed 21 inches in height, so they are a great size for small homesteads. They can produce a surprising amount of milk for their small stature and their milk is high in butterfat, making it great for cheese and soap making. I hope to try out my cheese making skills with help from these girls someday.

These two are so sweet and affectionate. They LOVE my husband and still ask to be picked up and cuddled as soon as we start chores. There will come a day when they are too big for this, but they are not there yet. They also love to go on “goat walks” around the farm. Since they were bottle fed, they are happy to follow us wherever we go. It isn’t unusual for the two goats, my bottle lamb, the German Shepherd, and the llama to go on adventures around the farm to find the best grass and a change of scenery. What they don’t like is rain… if there is so much as a drizzle, they run for cover shaking their heads because their little ears are getting wet. Goats were never in my plan for the farm, but you know what they say… “Happy husband, happy life.”

2016 Wool Crop

After briefly introducing the sheep in the last post, I wanted to show you pictures of the 2016 wool crop. I had five 2015 lambs sheared on April 12th, 2016. The oldest lamb (Spring) was born on March 31st and the youngest (Holi) was born on June 9th, so the fleeces represented just over or under one year's growth. I have jackets on the sheep year round to keep the fleeces as clean as possible and stop sun damage. Here are some pictures of the raw fleeces on the skirting table. 

I sent the fleeces to a mill for processing. All of them were washed, carded, and spun to fingering weight yarn. Here are pictures and descriptions of the finished product.

The Sheep

I thought that I would dedicate the first few blog posts to introducing the animals on the farm. First, of course, has to be the sheep. I love my sheep dearly! I grew up riding horses and knew I enjoyed large animals, so marrying that interest with my interest in fiber seemed like a no-brainer. Even so, I wasn’t prepared for how much the sheep would enter my heart and spirit. I can’t imagine a life without them! They are beautiful, funny, sweet, and intelligent (despite what you have heard) with lots of personality and charm. They are surprisingly affectionate and look you right in the eyes when they address you. I am so grateful for every day that I get to spend with them and the beautiful fiber they provide for me.

I prioritize rare and heritage breeds of sheep. Not only does this help preserve genetic diversity in the US livestock population, but it keeps these breeds’ unique and beautiful fiber characteristics available to handspinners. Most of the sheep are CVM/Rambouillet crosses, with heavy genetic emphasis on the CVM side; I also have one full CVM ewe, a ewe that is 75% CVM and 25% Blue Faced Leicester, and two Leicester Longwools.

CVM/Romeldale sheep were bred in California in the early 1900’s and were produced by breeding Romney rams with Rambouillet ewes. Romeldale sheep are white and CVM’s are the multi-colored derivative, but they are considered variations within the same breed. All of my sheep are naturally colored, with colors from very light grey to apricot to nearly black, and are much more CVM than Rambouillet in breeding. According to the Livestock Conservancy, CVM sheep are considered critically endangered, meaning that fewer than 200 animals are added to their breed registry every year in the US and the estimated global population is under 2,000 animals.

CVM and Rambouillet fleece is very fine, soft, and uniform. CVM fleece darkens as the animal gets older as opposed to lightening with age as other breeds do. From my 2016 shearing, all of whom where 2015 lambs, my largest fleece was almost 8 pounds and the longest staple length was around 5 inches. I love these animals for their beautiful colors, sweet temperaments (especially the boys), and large fleeces. I have gotten all of my CVMs from Sarah Hagemeister with Sister Sheep. She sells lambs, adult sheep, and raw fleeces and has given me so much help and advise!

The newest addition to the flock are two Leicester Longwool sheep. As you can tell from their name, they are a Longwool breed and were originally developed in the mid 1700’s in England. They were popular in the States around the American Revolution, but then the Merino-type, fine wool breeds grew in favor and they nearly went extinct in North America. In 1990, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation imported some animals from Australia, reestablishing the breed. They are also considered critically rare by the Livestock Conservancy. Their fleeces have LOTS of luster, are heavy, curly, have a staple of around eight inches and weigh from 11-15 pounds. I got my two, 2016 lambs from Rockin’ R Farm. They also sell lambs, adult sheep, and fleeces.

There you go! All you ever wanted to know about CVMs and Leicester Longwools! I hope to add more breeds of fiber sheep to the flock in the future to learn more about each breed, what they offer in fiber, and to be able to conserve more valuable genetics. Now, more pictures of my sweet sheep!

Welcome to the Farm!

I’m so happy you are here! Hollyhock Farm is a small fiber farm in Northern Colorado. I am fairly new to this life… I grew up in a large urban area, but always had a country girl slumbering inside me. Ever since I moved to Colorado to attend college, I have been slowly building my country life around my love of fiber, raising and working with animals, and learning more about homesteading. I believe in happy animals, homemade pie crust, letting the flowers grow, and continuously learning. Everyday on the farm is a gift and I am grateful that I get to live in this beautiful place with these beautiful animals.

This website will serve as a journal to chronicle my homesteading experiments, a connection to other fiber and homesteading enthusiasts, and a way for me to share products from the farm. I will introduce the animals soon as well as post pictures and projects as I go along.

Thank you so much for joining me!