December went by in a rush at Thirteen Mile Farm. Many of our knitted and other wool products are popular Christmas gifts and we spend much of the month responding to special orders and packaging and delivering boxes to our local Fed Ex station. The cold winter weather which started in November continued into the first week in December and then a warm front came through and the daytime temperatures warmed up into the 50s. The snow which had dropped on unfrozen ground, quickly disappeared. After a few days temperatures became more seasonal and the ground did freeze but through the end of the month there was very little snow. However, the mountains received a good early winter snowfall and local ski areas enjoyed their best early season in years. Becky and Dave were both busy with Agricultural Development Council and Board of Livestock meetings but did manage to get away to visit friends on Whidbey Island in Washington for a few days after Christmas.
November has been a month of transitions here at the farm. The fall weather of October continued through the first three weeks of the month with warm sunny days and cool nights and then, the week of Thanksgiving, temperatures plummeted to 17 degrees below zero and a storm that was predicted to leave us with an inch of snow dropped over a foot. The cross country skiing around our pastures was excellent. The sheep were a little shocked although they have a good, thick coat of wool at this time and they don't mind the cold. It does take them a while for them to get used to plowing through a foot of snow but this first snow has been light and fluffy and they are coping. We haven't been able to get them on skis yet. There were still any number of jobs that we had hoped to get done before winter set in but now many of these will wait for spring.
Our daughter Karen and husband Bill and children Will and Julia were her for the week of Thanksgiving. We enjoyed a wonderful week with a house full of grandchildren, lots of cold snow outside to play in, and much good food inside.
Max and Leo, out two sheep guard dogs have continued their 100% record of preventing predation but they have developed a bad habit of pulling the wool off of some of the lambs. They seem to do this in play but needless to say, it is hard on the lambs. The dogs are just about a year old and this is apparently not an uncommon problem with young dogs. We have looked at internet forums on livestock guard dogs and talked with other ranchers and learned that many young dogs display this kind of behavior. At this point Max has been the main culprit and, to slow him down a bit and let young sheep escape, he has been chained to an old car tire for the past couple of weeks. It took him a day or so to get used to it but now he plows around like a sled dog and doesn't seem troubled at all and he is not pulling wool. He is going to be one strong dog. Leo initially wasn't doing any wool pulling and seemed less inclined to do this but when he finally did pull down a yearling lamb and pull wool off of her, we attached a short length of chain to his collar. Leo hates any kind of constraint and within one night managed to get the chain off his collar. We aren't sure how he did this and we haven't found the chain but he hasn't attacked a lamb again and we are hoping he has learned something. We'll keep you up to date on Max and Leo's progress. There are packs of coyotes around many nights and the dogs are doing their job. We are hopeful that we will solve the current problem.
The wool mill is always very busy at this time of year as we try to get orders out in time for Christmas. The holiday rush is likely to continue well into January.
|These sheep are experiencing their first morning with snow. They haven't tramped down many paths yet and they say in their tracks for a few days. We spin out hay with a tractor that makes tracks in the snow for the sheep.|
The cool days of September continued into October with a few unseasonably warm afternoons but most nights in the 20s. We have had many heavy frosts but the ground is not frozen. Early in the month several snow storms which left a few inches on the ground at the farm and much more in the mountains, but the snow melted away and the ground is bare again at the first of November.
The sheep become much more active with the cool weather, especially the rams. We had to separate several of the rams early in the month. They were fighting so hard that we were afraid that one might get seriously injured. We sorted the ewes into breeding groups on the 22nd of the month and put the rams in with them. That put a stop to the fighting. The early spring temperatures have been mild during the last few years and we are gradually moving up our breeding and thus lambing season to take advantage of the changing climate. Lambing should start next year during the third week in March.
|By mid-October the dry, hot weather of late summer and fall had turned our pastures brown. Although we had saved grass for the sheep, it was not too palatable and we had to begin supplemented the grazing with hay. We don't like to begin feeding before November but we want the ewes to be in good shape during breeding so we have no choice.|
|The yearling steers and heifers which arrived in November of last year were close to maturity and were shipped out on October 29. These grass-fed, organic cattle were owned by the Montana Organic Meat COOP. We will receive another load of 35 animals in November to finish on grass and hay during 2008.|
|Although we don't have the brilliant red fall colors of the maple trees in New England, our Aspen and Cottonwoods are beautiful in late September and October. The evening light here doesn't look real but the yellows are very intense. This is one of our favorite seasons in Montana.|
|At the start of hunting season our local herd of elk moved into the field just north of our house. The non-resident owner of this field doesn't allow hunting and the elk know it. We have about a half dozen people a day stop and ask if they can "hunt" these elk. Talk about shooting a fish in a barrel.|
|No, we haven't found a lake on our farm. We got away for three weeks in September and early October and spent 6 days canoeing in Algonquin Park. Dave spent three summers many years ago guiding canoe trips through the park but had not been back for far too long. We experienced six days of near perfect weather and had a great time.|
|Max and Leo are now about 90 lbs each and are still growing. We have coyotes around during many nights at this time of year and the dogs have been completely effective at keeping the sheep safe.|
|We bolted their dinner bowls to a heavy board. Before this Max and Leo would eat and then the bowls would become toys and we often couldn't find them for the next meal. They eat lots of cooked beans, peas, rice, oatmeal, along with some cooked meat and a little commercial dog food.|
September is often one of the best months in Montana and this year was no exception with warm, sunny days and cool nights. Several good rains came through the valley during the second half of the month and, although it is really too late to stimulate much grass growth this year, it means we will go into the winter with pretty good soil moisture and we will see the influence of this next spring.
We spent out time working on fences and getting the farm ready for winter. During the last two weeks of the month we left on our annual vacation. This year we spent a week canoeing in Ontario, Canada and then visited family in Maine and Vermont.
|The Montana Outdoor Science School (MOSS) brought a group of kids out for a day. Here Heather is teaching the children about Wool.|
|After exploring what wool is, where it comes from and what can be done with it, the kids make a wool, felt, pack around a bar of soap. They can take these home and use them to wash their hands.|
|Katey spins with a group of women from the area who call themselves "The Twisted Sisters." One Saturday they all came out to the Thirteen Mile Wool Mill with their spinning wheels and spent the day spinning and talking.|
|This has been a great year for apples. Some years we don't get any apples and some years we get a few, but this year conditions were just right in the spring when the trees flowered and the fruit set and we are enjoying the best crop we have ever had. If we wait too long to pick these, the birds will enjoy the best crop they have ever had.|
August, usually our hottest month, was much cooler than July this year. There were still a few days in the high 90s but none over 100 and many days in the 80s with cool nights in the 40s. By the end of the month several nights were in the 30s and we began to think about an early frost. The extreme mid-summer heat coupled with the lack of rain, 0.6 inches since mid-June, has slowed or stopped growth in many of our pastures and by the end of August we were supplementing feed for our cattle with hay in round-bale feeders. The cattle can still graze and we are moving them through pastures with some grass but they can also choose to eat some hay when they want to.
On August 28, we took the first load of this years lambs to a processing plant in Columbus, Montana. These lambs weighed and average of 111 pounds and were the fastest growing of this years crop. The Columbus plant, Stillwater Packing, has been recently certified organic and is 115 mile from the ranch. In recent years we have taken our lambs to a plant that was 180 miles away so the reduced distance is welcome. When we have used Stillwater Packing in the past, we have been very pleased with the quality of their product and we look forward to working with them this year. For several years we have worked to keep from raising our lamb prices but this year, with our costs of everything from lamb processing to fuel to machine repairs to fencing materials rising significantly, we have been forced to raise our lamb prices.
The Western Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education organization, (SARE), met in Montana this month at Montana State University. The group toured several nearby farms and ranches including Thirteen Mile Farm. It was interesting to show what we are doing and to discuss the challenges of sustainable farming practices with a group of very knowledgeable people from all over the western states.
With haying completed for the year, we are back to rebuilding fences when time permits. Each year we plan to rebuild or repair a number of lines of fence and we still have several sections we hope to finish before the ground freezes or snow flies. There never seems to be time enough to finish all that we plan to do.
|For many days in August views from the farm looked like this. Many forest fires were burning in Montana and large fires in Idaho and Northern California were contributing smoke to our area. Visibility was often down to about a mile. By the end of the month fire crews had surrounded and controlled most of the fires but many will continue to burn until snow falls.|
|These international exchange students were spending several weeks in Bozeman, Montana taking a course in spoken english and the culture of America. On one afternoon they visited Thirteen Mile Farm. Katey is explaining the processing of raw wool to finished yarn. Here she is demonstrating how the wool is spun to yarn.|
|Although our llamas are no longer very effective as livestock guards, we still have two of them. Here Sam is getting sheared. We haven't done this for several years and, although Sam is not too socialized and has not been handled at all, he doesn't seem to object to a hair cut.|
HOT is the only way to describe July in Montana this year. It has been at or near 100 degrees every day for the entire month with only one shower which produced 0.15 inches of rain. On July 5 a temperature of 106 degrees was recorded at the county airport, an all time record for Gallatin County. We used to have a week or so of this kind of weather, usually in August, but now with the climate changing, this may be our new normal. We were optimistic with the moisture that came in April and May and in many parts on Montana it looked as if the drought had broken but this continued very hot weather has dried out the soil and we are again very dry. The hot dry weather has also produced numerous dry thunder storms and many fires. We have had two small fires nearby each burning less than 100 acres but by the end of the month four large fires were burning in Montana and the air was full of smoke.
We finished haying for the year with widely varying results. One field which is high and very well drained produced less than half of last years yield while several of our lower and better naturally sub-irrigated fields produced about the same or even slightly more than in previous years. Some years we get through haying with no mechanical problems but this year on two occasions low pressure hydraulic return lines on a tractor ruptured and shut us down for a day or so.
We have made felt in small pieces and in larger sheets for several years. The commercial felt machine we have used was capable of making high quality felt but was not efficient and required a great deal of labor to make a single sheet. We have thought about building a better machine for over a year and last month, with help from Vaughn Kraft a local rancher and machinist, we designed and built a new felt machine. The pictures below show the new machine and describe how it works.
We brought the cattle back home toward the end of the month. They were on a pasture a little over two miles away and rather than driving them down the road and risking an escape into a neighbors rich green field of alfalfa, we decided to bring them home in three trailer loads. We ran the cattle across a scale and were pleased to learn that they are gaining at about 2.5 lbs per day. Several of the steers are already over 1000 lbs at an age of 16 months, a good growth rate on grass.
|We brought the sheep back to our home place early in the month. They were in an area with trees and brush and it took about three tries to find them all and get them home. Johnny Harbor, our shearer, spent a day with us and tagged (trimmed off soiled wool) all of our sheep and lambs.|
|Max is nine months old and still growing and can still act like a puppy. He seems to really want to be close to the sheep and does not leave them. These dogs have helped us so much already this year. We have not lost a single sheep or lamb to predators since Max and Leo arrived.|
|Last night we heard coyotes howling, probably in a pasture adjacent to the sheep, but the dogs were right on it and we were confident the sheep were safe. A few days ago we found a deer kill in a pasture next to the sheep. It looked like a mountain lion kill but the sheep were not attacked.|
|This is the new 4 ft X 8 ft felt machine which we finished this month. To make felt, wool batts are placed on the lower table; in this case a two color combination of 4 ft X 4 ft batts.|
|Becky has soaked the wool with warm, soapy water and is working the water into the wool with her hands.|
|The heavy top layer is lowered onto the wet wool batts. Both the lower and upper tables are surfaced with a rough sheet of plastic material.|
|The drive mechanism drives the lower table which is supported on rollers back and forth while the upper table is held in a stationary position. The wool batts are compressed between the two tables and are felted.|
June has been hot and dry with weather we usually see in July and August. Usually we begin haying in early July and finish up in August but this year we began on June 18 and by the end of the month we were well along with the harvest.
The sheep and cattle are together on about 100 acres of pasture and scrub woods. This is leased land just north of our home place. We never would have been able to leave the sheep in such an area in previous years as there are so many places for coyotes and foxes to stalk and kill but the dogs, Max and Leo, have stayed with the flock and we have not lost a single sheep or lamb.
|We were visited by a group of people from Tajikistan. These people are in the United States to explore ways in which agriculture can coexist with wildlife, especially predators. We had an interesting conversation with them through a translator. The man in the blue shirt to the left operates a large sheep ranch in Tajikistan with 2000 sheep.|
|On June 21 we again hosted the Montana Conservation Voters local chapter annual Solstice Party. About 75 people came to enjoy a potluck dinner and here from our local legislators. Here Brady Wiseman, Mike Phillips, Frankie Wilmer and JP Pomnichowski address the group and answer questions about the just completed session of the state legislature.|
|Haying usually doesn't begin until July but the season is about two weeks ahead of normal this year and we started on June 18th. Hay yields have been quite variable so far. This field is high with gravelly soil and not much capacity to hold moisture. The field is planted to Sanfoin and grass and yielded only 42% of last years harvest. Other fields on lower ground with better subsoil moisture have been yielding the same or somewhat better than last year.|
|The Montana Outdoor Science School, MOSS, brought several day-camp groups to Thirteen Mile Farm this month. The children get a look at livestock farming, learned about weeds and some of the ways we control them on an organic farm, and they made some wool felt and finished off the day by making and eating ice cream.|
|Katey has been weaving some lovely wool scarves lately.|
We have had some really warm weather in May and, with longer days, it has felt like Summer. The frequent rain and snow of April stopped and our fields began to dry out a bit but we have still had several good rains and thing look very green. At this time of year we always struggle to keep the sheep and cows feeding on hay and off the pastures until the new green grass is mature enough to provide nutrition and not so short that grazing will damage the fields. But we quickly progress to grass that is taller than we would like, especially for the sheep. We moved the yearling steers and heifers onto pasture at about the middle of the month. Before these yearlings went onto pasture we weighed them and were pleased to see that the smaller calves which came to us at 440 lbs. in November had gained 1.2 lbs. per day through the winter while the heavier group which started out at an average weight of 680 lbs had gained 0.4 lbs. per day. After a couple of weeks on pasture, although we haven't weighed the cattle again, we can already see that they are on a good gain rate.
We have had lots of kids on the farm this month with another two kindergarten classes, another home school group, a small wool spinning class, and a group of about 100 kids from the Bozeman Schools participating in a Montana Outdoor Science School, MOSS, program.
Those of you who purchase items on this web site know that for years we have had a somewhat awkward order form which you filled out. We started work on a "shopping cart" for the site in January. This proved to be a larger task than we anticipated but, with the help of a consultant, we completed the job this month and you can now purchase items in the more automated way that we have become accustomed to doing an the internet. We welcome any comments or suggestions you may have on the revised site.
Lots of meetings this month. Becky is now a member of the State Livestock Board and has attended several board meetings in Helena as well as meeting of sheep and cattle producers associations around the state. Dave has been in Helena at Montana Conservation Voters board meetings and in Sidney for several days of Agricultural Development Council meetings. We also took a few days off and traveled to Massachusetts and Vermont to visit daughters and families and grandchildren over the Memorial Day weekend.
|On a Saturday morning several children came to the farm for a lesson in drop spindle wool spinning. Katey is helping this girl to get a spin going. The spindles they are using are made from a piece of 3/8 inch dowel and a computer compact disk. Another use for all those AOL CDs we get in the mail.|
After a couple of particularly warm days one of our bee colonies swarmed. This happened here a couple of years ago and apparently happens when more than one queen bee is produced in a hive. These bees spent a couple of days swarming around the house and then settled over night on this apple tree. Finally the next morning they left the tree and formed a whirling swarm about 30-40 feet in diameter and slowly moved off to the northeast, presumably to a new home.
When Gretchen examined the hive a few weeks after this swarm, it looked like one hive was without a queen. Apparently this swarm took the only queen. We hope that the hive can produce another queen.
|By the end of the month the sheep were on good green pasture and enjoying it.|
|Some of these lambs may be almost two months old and they are growing fast.|
|These yearlings have been on grass now for several weeks and are gaining well. We have moved them off the home place to leased pasture nearby and soon they will move to a pasture still farther away where we have had trouble with both coyotes and mountain lions and can no longer graze the sheep.|
|Max and Leo are now are now 7 months old and pretty good size. We still don't spend any time with them but they are very friendly when we meet them in the field. Taiga (in the background here) still ignores them when she can. As far as we know, we have not lost a single lamb or ewe to predators since these dogs arrived.|
We have had all kinds of weather in April from wet Spring snow to rain to sunny days with temperatures in the high 70s. We have had lots of moisture on the ranch and the grass is greening up nicely. The bad news is that the mountain snow pack had diminished significantly this month (now at 64% of normal in our local mountains) and the rivers and streams will not be running full this Summer.
Lambing went well this year and by the end of the month we were about through with just a few stragglers holding out. The mild weather has been very helpful and they were only a few days when the ewes and new lambs need shelter even at night.
April is a month when we usually spend time repairing and rebuilding fences. The year was no exception. We took out and replaced about 1000 feet of fence and have several other fencing projects on the schedule for the next month.
We have had two kindergarten classes, one home school group, and a group of Bozeman business leaders visit the farm this month along with several smaller family groups. April is a nice time for kids to visit and see the new lambs. Although we decided a couple of years ago not to keep and bottle feed any bum lambs, we are feeding three this year and the kids always enjoy meeting, holding and petting the bums.
|By about the third week in the month the grass was greening up and the sheep were grazing. We still made hay available to them until the end of the month but they really didn't eat much of it. We wish they would stay with the hay a little longer because the first flush of grass is pretty watery and not very nutritious.|
|Max looks and acts more like a guard dog every day. Leo does too but he never seemed to show up when we had the camera out this month. The dogs are still developing very well. They seem to have lost their desire to roam very far afield and have not left the sheep at all lately. They have settled in to a pattern of sleeping most of the morning, playing with each other in the afternoon if it isn't too hot, and becoming really active at night. Max is finally learning that if he chases small lambs or plays too roughly with them, their mother will attack him and he doesn't like that. Leo seemed to know this without being taught. Although we know there are coyotes and probably foxes around, we don't think we have lost a single lamb this Spring to predators.|
March has brought us unsettled weather as it usually does. In the middle of the month we enjoyed a few summer-like days of blue skies and temperatures near 70 but a few days later it was blowing wet spring snow. Overall, the weather has been good for the new lambs that first showed up on the 23rd of the month.
It has been a busy month for meetings with Dave in Helena for several days attending Agriculture Development Council meetings and Montana Conservation Voters events. Becky has recently been appointed to the State Board of Livestock and she was in Helena for several days at Board meetings. She also spent a few days in Florida at a conference on eco labeling. When she was in Florida, it was warmer in Montana.
The Sandhill Cranes came back on March 16, about a week later than usual. There are several pairs in the area and we will enjoy watching and listening to them until October.
|The first lamb of the year arrived on March 23, a few days ahead of schedule, but not a surprise. By the end of the first day we had four lambs, 2 singles and a set of twins.|
|Leo, although far from full grown, looks less and less like a puppy each day. He is developing into a tall and rangy dog who can really cover the ground.|
|Max is chunkier and heavier than his brother. He isn't as fast or as able at jumping fences, but he is the one who seems always on the alert and will first to notice the approach of anything.|
|We are very pleased at the development of the dogs as guards. Since the first lambs showed up they haven't left the pastures with the lambs and ewes. They quickly learned that some of the ewes would butt them away if they got too close to the new lambs but they are fascinated by the new small animals. Several times, in the middle of the night, the dogs will bark furiously at something for a few minutes. Although the lambing season is young, we haven't lost any lambs to predators and we think the dogs are already working.|
|By the end of March we had 67 lambs on the ground from 46 ewes. This is a lambing percentage of 146% or 1.46 lambs per ewe. We would like to see a higher percentage and hope that it will pick up during the next month.|
|When last August the wind took out one of our 100 year old cottonwoods missing the house by inches, we decided we had to do something. The trees are so big and tall that if they fell on the house, they would likely go right on through to the ground. We hired Robert Seekell, a neighbor and a professional tree trimmer, to climb and trim off the tops of the trees. We hope that the remaining trunks will branch out and continue to provide shade and bird habitat.|
|We have eagles around the ranch for most of the Winter and they are most numerous in March. One morning there were five eagles in the cottonwoods near the house and they are often soaring overhead. Soon they will move off to the rivers and we won't see large concentrations again until next Winter.|
February started out with a couple of days with temperatures around 55 degrees, amazingly warm for this time of year. That melted what little snow we had and started an early mud season for us. However, a week later we began to see the first significant snow of the year. It came just a few inches at a time but by the middle of the month we had about 8 inches on the ground. Not a lot but at least it began to look like winter. By late in the month the skies were overcast most days with day temperatures in the high 30s and nights in the single numbers. Snow would fall a few inches at a time but the warm days would melt the surface at the nights would form hard ice crusts. This kind of snow is difficult for the sheep to walk in and they don't like it. They will tend to follow tractor tire tracks through the snow whenever possible. The snow pack in the mountains is about 50% of what it was at this time last year. A prediction of several of the global warming models is that we will experience greater variability in the weather than we are used to and this seems to be happening. The light snow pack may not directly effect us if we get late winter snows and spring rain but it will likely mean less water available this summer for farms relying on irrigation.
We like to shear the sheep a few weeks before they begin lambing but this year we couldn't schedule shearing in March as we usually do. We sheared on February 13-14, about 6 weeks before we expect to see lambs. The mild weather after shearing has been relatively easy on the sheep. They now have access to shelter at night and most night they have been crowding into a shed along with the guard dogs.
It has been a good month for visitors. Our granddaughter Maya and her parents Erica and Ashoke spent a week with us. They are avid skiers and got to ski a couple of days at Big Sky and a day at Bridger Bowl. Becky and Dave even broke out their alpine skis to see if they could remember how to get down steep hills. We had a great time. Clair Ackroyd, an old friend from our days in Maine, came by and spent time with us. She was a great help during shearing. Clair is an expert knitter and she has knitted a set of swatches that will be used to provide a guide for yarn and needle size for our various yarns. Clair is also working up a vest pattern using Thirteen Mile yarn and old Irish knitting patterns. Clair's daughter Selena who now lives in Jackson, Wyoming visited for a couple of days.
|We put all of the sheep under cover a three buildings the night before we shear. We want the wool to be as dry as possible. Unfortunately this year there had been a little light snow each day for several days and the sheep had a light coating of snow and ice which did not melt off.|
|Clair is trying to move sheep down the chute with her eyes as Border Collies often do. It seems to be working.|
|This year Johnny Harbor and Larry Park did the shearing for us. They are both from Twin Bridges, Montana about 60 miles southwest of here where they both ranch when they are not on the road shearing. They will travel in January through April throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana shearing farm flocks like ours and working with larger crews to shear flocks of several thousand head.|
|It has been a good year for wool growth and the fleeces look quite good.|
|After each sheep is sheared, we pick the belly wool and dirty tags off the fleece before it goes into a bag.|
|The sheep are ready for some hay as soon as they are sheared. It warmed up to about 20 and, with their wool coats gone, they will need to eat to stay warm.|
|We had enough snow by the end of the month to al least make a snowman. Maya. our 2 year old grand daughter was visiting with her parents, Erica and Ashoke, and this is Maya's first snowman. She isn't quite sure what to make of it.|
|Sam is usually the first one to investigate any new person who visits his sheep. We wish he would still pay as much attention to coyotes when they come visiting.|
|Max and Leo are growing at an amazing rate and they are doing very well at staying with the sheep. They have gotten out of the sheep's pasture a few times and gone exploring but, for the most part, they are doing well and we are very hopeful that they are maturing into effective guards.|
It is the end of January and we still have no significant snow on the ground. We have had a few flurries with an inch or maybe two at a time and we did have some cold weather early in the month with several nights around 25 below zero with days near zero but we also had a couple of days near fifty degrees above. This is the most open winter we have seen since we moved to Montana 21 years ago. There is snow in the mountains although the snow pack is way below normal. We have been in Yellowstone park skiing a few times where, in places , the snow is 2 to 3 feet deep but by this time of year it should be 5 to 6 feet deep. The lack of snow does make it easy to move the animals and to do many chores around the farm but, as usual, we are beginning to worry about soil moisture for next year. We often do get heavy wet snows in February and March so we won't panic yet.
The calves are still on pasture a couple of miles from home but they ran out of grass back in December and we have been feeding hay since then. The hay supply we had left near the pasture they're in is about done so we will bring them back to one of our closer pastures in the next few days.
The guard dogs (puppies) are doing well. We are working hard to spend very little time with them and have them spend all their time with the sheep. This is working pretty well. They experienced one traumatic experience when we had been gone most of the day skiing and when we returned after dark, the pups had squeezed through a fence and found there way to the house. We took them back down to the sheep pasture and their house, but in the process, they became separated and lost track of each other. They don't like to be more than 10 feet apart and not knowing where the other one was was terrible. Since that night, they have made no attempt to approach the house. The older sheep have accepted the dogs and pay little attention to them but the young replacement ewes who aren't yet a year old themselves are interested in the pups and sometimes try to play with them. They will but them away from a particularly choice bit of hay and the pups take that as play and roll over on their backs in a submissive posture. It is interesting to observe from a distance.
The mangy coyotes are still in the area but they haven't bothered our sheep since December. We are still on the alert and try to pass through the back pastures at unpredictable times to always let the coyotes know we are around. We hear of more frequent sightings of wolves in the Bridger Mountains a few miles east of the farm and we wonder how long it will be before we encounter wolves here. At this point we think that any wolves are just passing through but the Bridgers may be a large enough area to provide a home for a pack.
|The pups have names now; Max on the right and Leo on the left. As we drove to Southwest Oregon to pick them up, we read aloud William Kittredge's new book, The Willow Field, where we encountered two characters, Max and Leo. So Max and Leo it is.|
|Pardon all the dog pictures. We don't spend much time with them but they are fun to take pictures of. They want very much to play with Taiga, our 12 year old Border Collie, but she will have nothing to do with them.|
|One more picture.|
|There isn't much snow on the fields. There is also no grass left and we are feeding hay every day.|
|In the wool mill we have been experimenting with and perfecting many plant dye colors. Look at the yarn page for a selection of the new yarn colors.|
We expected more time during the Fall months to update our web site and continue the monthly news but it just didn't happen. So here is a summary of the last three months of 2006. The rain and snow in early September was the last significant precipitation here. The Fall was dry and warm until the last week in October when the temperature suddenly dropped to 6 below zero for a couple of days. This was kind of a shock to our systems but a week later it was back up to fifty. Now in December we have only an inch or two of dry snow on the ground. The December temperatures have been cold with many nights below zero but there is still only light frost in the ground and there is still grass available for grazing in some fields.
In October, after considerable thought and planning, we purchased a new spinning frame from Carolina Specialties and we spent much of the month preparing the mill for the arrival of the new machine. We removed a couple of internal walls and rewired some of the building to provide power for the frame. In early November the machine arrived by freight truck at a local freight depot. Our first challenge was to move the 3000 lb. + machine off the 4 foot high loading dock onto our 3 foot high flat bed trailer. We won't bore you with the details but it took a long day to move the spinning frame off the loading dock onto the trailer and then off the trailer and into the mill building with about an inch clearance on the door frame. The manufacturer (Marcel Deshaies) and Paul Carter, spent several days helping us get the new machine set up and adjusted, and took a little time to hunt for some arrowheads and visit Yellowstone National Park while in the neighborhood. Paul had recently retired after a long career with Whitin and Roberts installing and maintaining spinning equipment throughout the world. We are very pleased with improved quality and quantity of our yarn production with the new equipment.
A group of Korean farmers visited Thirteen Mile Farm in December. During the first week in December Korean and U.S. negotiators met at the Big Sky resort in Montana try to negotiate a free trade agreement between the two nations. The venue was selected in such an out of the way location in hopes that protesters would not show up but the Korean farmers did come to Montana to voice their opinions on the trade negotiations. Free trade agreements negotiated by our government in recent years are usually harmful to local farmers and farm economies. When subsidized, low cost, American grown commodity crops are imported, local farms cannot compete and are put out of business. We had an opportunity to talk with several Korean farmers about farming practices in Korea and about the expected effects of the proposed trade agreement. Several Korean television news reporters accompanied the group. They interviewed us at length and their questions indicated a great deal of concern about the safety of American meat products with respect to Mad Cow Disease but also the use of growth hormones in beef cattle and practices in U.S. feed lots and meat packing plants. We all agreed that the best food is that produced locally whenever possible. At the end of the week the trade negotiators failed to reach an agreement.
In late November we took delivery on 40 mixed steer and heifer calves. Eighteen calve were from a ranch in Big Sandy, Montana and 22 were from a ranch in Cora, Wyoming. The calves from Big Sandy weighed in at an average of 680 lbs. and those from Cora weighed an average of 437 lbs. The calves are on a field we did not mow or graze this past summer with quite a lot of good grass available to them. When the snow begins to pile up, we will feed hay on this same field and eventually bring the calves to a field closer to home. They will be here for about 12 months and will be sold as grass finished, organic beef. The calves are owned by a newly formed Montana Organic Meat COOP and will be marketed next year by the COOP. We will be compensated based on the finished weight. Eventually we hope to market at least some of our lamb through the COOP.
After a Summer of modest losses to predators, a couple of coyotes moved in in November and began to hammer our sheep. We lost five animals in ten days including lambs and mature ewes, sometimes a few feet from the barns and other buildings. Both of these coyotes appear to have advanced cases of mange, a skin disease caused by a parasitic, microscopic mite. We have seen mange in local foxes and coyotes before and it usually kills the animal in a slow and unpleasant death. It is sick or wounded predators like these that often cause us the most trouble. A healthy pack of coyotes are likely to move through the area, possibly killing a lamb, but then moving on where a sick animal will move in and stay and kill. After many years of reasonably effective guarding, our lamas appear to have given up. We have on seen the lamas watching in one case a coyote feeding on a lamb and in another case as a coyote rounded up the sheep in a tight bunch prior to selecting one to kill. Fortunately we were able to stop the last action.
About a year and a half ago we tried to introduce guard dogs to our farm with poor results. The dogs were 4 months old when we got them and they were too socialized. They would stay with the sheep for maybe an hour and then show up on our door step to see what the people were doing. We tried to work with these dogs for several months but finally gave up and sold the dogs to a large sheep ranch in Idaho where they will almost never encounter people except the sheep herders. We have decided to try again and in late December, we drove to southwest Oregon and picked up two 8 week old pups. These dogs were born on a ranch and are bred from Great Pyrenees, Maremma, and Anatolian guard dog stock. We hope this will be a good combination for our operation. We need dogs that will be aggressive enough to defend the sheep against foxes, coyotes, and mountain lions but will not attack people.
|We sorted the ewes into six breeding groups in late October and put a ram in with each group. The gestation cycle in sheep is just over five months and we expect to begin lambing at the end of March.|
Paul Carter spent several days with us when our new spinning frame was moved in and set up.
|With Paul here, we tried to experiment with every kind of fiber we have had trouble with in the past to see how he would suggest working with it. Here he, Katey and Melissa are working through a problem.|
|Paul and becky are feed in sliver into the spinning frame.|
|The delegation of Korean farmers and several U.S. fair trade activists had dinner in our home one evening in December. About 25 people crowded into the living room and we had to sit on the floor.|
|During our three day Christmas sale, we had Thirteen Mile wool products as well as items produced by other local fiber artists and crafts people on sale. Most of the sale items were on display in our green house / lambing barn.|
|During the Christmas sale weekend, Katey and Melissa led almost continuous tours of the wool mill explaining the process of turning raw wool into finished yarn.|
|40 calves are grazing on grass which we didn't mow last summer. We haven't had much snow yet and in late December there is still good green feed here beneath the tall dry grass. The calves are slick and growing well.|
|The calves will crowd up around a pickup to see what you are doing. If you wait long enough they will scratch on the rear-view mirors and likely bend break them off.|
|This is the first morning the pups have been in Montana. They spent their first 8 weeks in southwest Oregon in rain and 40 degree weather. It is about 10 degrees here and this is their first snow. They are accustomed to sheep and they are quickly off to investigate the flock.The sheep were initially concerned and then curious and have, after a couple of hours, seemingly accepted the pups.|
|A bite to eat is always welcome. It will be 10 below when the sun goes down and they will need full bellies. The pups stayed with the sheep for the full day and we were pleased.|
|Does he look like a guard?|
|By the end of December there was good snow in the mountains and the skiers were happy. In our fields we had an inch or two at most.|
Summer flew by at Thirteen Mile Farm this year with no time to sit at a computer and write the monthly news. Here is a summary of the summer months. The welcome moisture we received in May ended in June and the Summer turned hot with many afternoons at or near 100 degrees. The daily mean temperatures in Montana this summer were 7 degrees Fahrenheit above the long time average. One can discuss whether or not this kind of climate change is caused by human activity, but the climate here is changing. Partly because of the hot, dry July and August Montana and several other states in the Pacific Northwest had the worst forest fire season in history. Several large fires burned near here during the last few weeks in August including the Derby Fire which burned 207,000 acres, and the air was filled with smoke and ash. Finally, on September 16, rain and snow snuffed out the fires quickly.
We had very little depredation of our sheep and lambs this summer with a few losses to foxes and coyotes during June. However, during the last week in September we lost a ewe to we think a mountain lion. We haven't seen the big cat but neighbors have reported lions in the area and the kill was characteristic of a lion.
Katey and Melissa continued through the summer to increase both the quality and quantity of yarn production in Thirteen Mile Wool Mill. We have been considering for several months bringing a second spinning frame and a second pin-drafter in to the mill. In September we decided to purchase this new equipment and we expect to have the two new machines on line by mid November and we will keep you up to date on further mill improvements.
|For the 5th year the local chapter of the Montana Conservation Voters, (MCV) held their annual Solstice Party at Thirteen Mile Farm. Over 100 people attended on a beautiful evening in June.|
|State Senate President John Tester, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate, was the featured speaker at the MCV event. Senator Tester operates an organic grain farm in Northern Montana and will bring to the U.S. Senate a rare and needed understanding of the United States and World food and fiber production system.|
|As usual, our time in July was dominated by haying. While our production was still not quite up to our long term average, we harvested well over 200 tons of grass and grass/alfalfa hay with little or no rain and we will be in good shape for the Winter. In fact, we will probably bring in some calves to winter and consume the hay our sheep don't need.|
|In July and August we experienced extremely hot weather and frequent afternoon thunderstorm squalls. These storm cells usually had no rain but high winds. One afternoon in August a storm moved in from the South and took down one of the 100 year old cottonwood trees that shade our home.|
|The tree came close enough to the house to knock off a couple of roof shingles but did no other damage. We were very lucky.|
|By mid September our crop of lambs was doing well. They are now weaned and many weigh over 100 lbs.|
|Our ewes are separated from the lambs in one of our lower pastures.|
|The local elk have been in and out during the Summer but, as usual, they have returned for the Fall. There are about 125 cows in this herd and there seem to be 4 bulls including one huge bull. We go to sleep and wake up at this time of year to the sound of the bull elk bugling. As I write this the herd in in the neighbors pasture across the road dining on some nice alfalfa re growth.|
May began with cool, clear Spring weather but by the middle of the month temperatures climbed into the 90s setting all time records. Memorial Day weekend turned out to be cold and raining with snow just slightly higher than the farm. We appreciated the moisture, almost an inch of rain, but folks who had a holiday of outdoor activities planned weren't too pleased.
By mid-May our lambing was about over although there are still a few ewes who may have late lambs. It had been a good lambing season with almost no predation until the third week in May. We moved most of the flock into a pasture about a half mile from the buildings and lost at least four lambs in four days. We think it is a fox killing the lambs although we haven't seen it. The lambs were killed and eaten completely and neatly right at the kill site. The clean bones and hide were not spread out and nothing was left or carried away. Since these losses, we have been moving the sheep into a pasture directly behind the house each night and we have been going out at random times during the night to check on them. So far this has worked.
Fence building and repair is one of the never ending jobs on any ranch and we have spent a good bit of May rebuilding several sections of fence. Although Thirteen Mile Farm isn't a big place by Montana standards, we have quite a few miles of fence to keep up and managing sheep is so much easier when the perimeter fences on all pastures are tight.
The Montana Outdoor Science School, MOSS, brought two second grade classes from a Bozeman school to Thirteen Mile Farm for a day in May. Although agriculture is still the largest business in Montana, towns in Montana are growing and many of the kids in elementary school in Bozeman have never been on a farm. MOSS does a wonderful job on introducing kids to the natural environment and we always happy to see them bring children here.
We moved our web site to a new Internet Service Provider (ISP) and have experienced some problems which we know have caused some of you trouble and we apologize. Moving most of the web site was straight forward and occurred without a hitch. However, the license we have for software to insure the security of our order form did not move easily from one ISP to another and some of you may have tried to use the order form and received messages suggesting that this site was insecure or was not to be trusted or that the software license was invalid. These problems were resolved after a few days and the web site and order form now is secure and works well.
|These kids are on a scavenger hunt in the pastures looking for many of the things one might expect to find in a pasture. Becky is explaining our sheep management practices.|
|These second graders are meeting a bum lamb that is being bottle fed and is used to people.|
|One of the projects for the MOSS second graders was making felt out of wool. They learned the process of making felt and made a felt warp around a soap bar. The kid had a useful thing to take home.|
|These are the felt wrapped soap bars the kids made. They are great for washing your hands.|
|By the end of the month the grass in our pastures was over a foot high. At this time of year the grass gets ahead of our sheep but they will catch up.|
|The lambs are growing well. This lamb, about six weeks old, is still nursing but is also grazing almost as much as the ewes.|
We spent most of April lambing. At the beginning of the month we had about 20 lambs and by the end we had well over 200 new lambs. We should have had more lambs and been about finished lambing but, for some unknown reason, one of our rams seems to have taken almost a month off back in November. He had almost 40 ewes to himself and none of these ewes lambed until almost the end of April. We put all of our ewes and rams together in early December so that all ewes would be covered but now lambing will continue, at a reduced rate, through May. We have never tested the fertility of our rams before breeding season but, in the best tradition of closing the barn door after the horse has left, we will do so in future years.
The weather has been good for lambing and, with the exception of a few days when it snowed, we were able to leave the lambs and ewes in the pastures where they lambed until the end of their first day. If the night was predicted to be wet or particularly cold, we would bring the ewes and lambs into jug pens in our green house for one night and then move them into mixing pens with a few ewes and lambs for a couple of days before joining the main flock. By the end of the month it was warm enough to dispense with the jug pens and leave everyone outside all the time.
We have had three school groups tour the farm and wool mill this month as well as a tour of local Bozeman business leaders. Montana and the Gallatin Valley where we are located has a rich agricultural history and many working farms and ranches but the towns are now big enough so that many of the children have little or no contact with agriculture and have little understanding of where food and fiber comes from. It is fun to see them here on a farm learning a bit about agriculture.
|We had several wet spring snows sometimes accumulating 4 to 6 inches during April. Some years we have spread straw on the snow but this year we spread extra rations of hay and the lambs used this for bedding. The lambs and ewes also had access to several building for shelter if they wanted it. These snow usually melted within a day or so and we appreciated the moisture.|
|This mother and new lamb wanted nothing to do with the snow and chose to stay on warm straw in the lambing barn.|
|Melissa started full time work in the wool mill in February. Originally from Batavia, New York, she has spent several years working in nearby Yellowstone Park. Melissa is new to working with wool but is learning very quickly. She is feeding the carding machine here.|
|Katey started working full time in January. She comes from Cleveland, Ohio by way of Washington, DC and was working for a local engineering firm in Bozeman before joining Thirteen Mile Lamb and Wool. She is a hand spinner and weaver and expert knitter and has done many things with natural fibers. Katey is working on the spinning frame here.|
|When there are no sheep to move, Taiga spend a lot of time in the mill these days. One of her favored spots in under the pin drafter where she seems to like the vibration in the floor boards. She will never look directly at a camera.|
|By the end of the month the snows had disappeared at our elevation (there is still lots of snow in the mountains) and the grass was growing well. We had many of the ewes and lambs near the house for several days.|
|These two lambs, a brother and sister, are settling in at dusk for the night.|
March came in with strong winds but warm temperatures and the snow which had been with us since late November slowly melted. We sheared on March third this year. Alvin Raisland did the shearing again but with only one other shearer besides himself so the day lasted from 7:00 am until 7:30 pm with about 200 sheep sheared. As in the past, we had a great crew of friends to help with the many jobs of shearing day. After shearing, the sheep have access each night to shelter although on many mild nights they elect to bed down in the field. If the weather is bad, most of the ewes will come in to the sheds, especially to lamb.
The sand hill cranes returned on March 15 from a winter in Nebraska or Texas. We look forward to the cranes as a indication of Spring and they were about a week late this year. Five pairs of these incredible birds spend the summer in the Reese Creek drainage which flows through Thirteen Mile Farm. The eagles remained in the area for most of the month and there were often four or five sitting in the cottonwoods over our house. By the end of the month most of the eagles had moved on to the nearby rivers where they dine on fish for the summer.
Melissa started work full time in the wool mill in the middle of March. With Katey and Melissa both working full time, production is increasing dramatically and we are beginning to catch up with local yarn orders and are again accepting wool from other ranches to be spun into yarn. We will try to achieve a balance of production time devoted to our own wool and yarn and service work for other wool producers.
Lambing started on March 28th and by the end of the month we had 20 new lambs with more coming each day. April will be the heavy lambing month.
|Greg is moving the sheep out of the corral down the shute toward the shearing trailer.|
|Alex moves the sheep up the ramp and into the trailer where two shearers work.|
|Becky, Amy, and Katherine are sorting the sheared wool and discarding the dirty belly and leg wool before it is packed into a bale. Amy's daughter Jeanette is very involved in the process.|
|Lambing was not due to begin until April but on March 28, Blue 97 couldn't wait. These are the first two lambs on the 2006 season, a boy and a girl. The father of this pair Wilson, a Border Leicester, is proving to be one of our best rams this year.|
|Always curious Sam raced across the field to check out the latest additions to his flock. He always takes a great interest in new lambs and we hope he protects them.|
|Not to be out done, Cyrus shows up. He is usually not as interested as Sam but he is equally gentle with new lambs.|
|We have been experimenting with natural organic dyes this month. The wool is dyed after washing and before carding, drafting, and spinning. The dyed fibers can then be mixed with natural colors to produce heathery colors and different colors can be plyed together for even more interesting color combinations.|
The warm weather that began before Christmas continued through most of January with day after day of overcast gray skies and night-time temperatures well below freezing but days in the 30s. The snow gradually became a hard layer of crust and ice that would hold up a 7000 pound tractor. The sheep cannot paw through this ice to find forage so we are feeding every day. Deer and elk are also finding it difficult to feed through the hard crust. We have about a dozen deer around our house every night looking for some exposed grass and about 200 elk are wintering in an irrigated alfalfa field about two mile south of us where some forage is exposed. In early February, after six weeks of warm days, the temperature dropped suddenly to 25 degrees below zero for several days.
Our problems with coyotes which began in December continued. The pack of three coyotes are still in the area but in early January, a large single coyote began showing up even during daylight hours. This coyote was accustomed to people and seemed to have little fear of dogs. He killed two lambs on two different days but ate only the meat around the face and head and in one case a little of one hind leg. This is strange coyote behavior that we have not seen before. It is a pattern more associated with domestic dog kills but in this case the tracks definitely identified the killer as the coyote.
Our production continues to increase in the wool mill and demand for our yarn also in increasing. In January Katey. a new full-time employee, began working in the mill and another full-time employee will begin in March. We are beginning to catch up on past projects.
By the end of February, the days are becoming noticeably longer and, although there is still a foot of snow in our back fields, we can begin to imagine Spring.
|On several days in January we would get about an inch of new snow on top of the hard, crusted base that had been on the ground since November. This made for perfect tracking conditions. In was interesting to go out in the early morning and try to read the story of the night in the snow. These are coyote tracks. There are also fox, mouse, weasel, and various bird tracks all over the fields almost every morning.|
|February is the month of the eagle here. The ground squirrels begin to tunnel up through the snow and this brings in the eagle in large numbers. We often have as many as five eagles at a time in the cottonwood trees in front of the house and more in the trees across the road.|
|We never tire of watching the eagle soar nearby and hearing their call.|
The snow that fell a few days after Thanksgiving stayed with us for about a month with the kind of cold winter weather Montana used to be known for. With nights at 20 to 25 below zero and days at zero or in the low single numbers, it looked like we would have a real winter. Then on December 20, it warmed up to 35 degrees and the next day it was 40 and raining. The last ten days have been cloudy and warm with nights still below freezing so we have lots of ice and snow crust. The sheep did fine during the cold weather. They are wearing almost a full year of wool growth now and can handle cold just fine. They do increase their feeding somewhat and we try to put down about as much hay as they will eat when we know they are facing a cold night. We feed large round hay bales that weigh 1200 pounds a piece and we cannot move these bales without a tractor so the tractor must be started each day. The tractor we use to feed has a diesel engine and we keep a block heater on this tractor plugged in all winter so the engine will start each morning but, at 25 below, the transmission / hydraulic fluid is like the classic "molasses in January" and nothing wants to work very well at first. For those who know John Deere machines, this tractor has a Power Shift transmission, and some mornings, power or not, it is reluctant to shift.
We held our second, annual holiday sale and mill tour the first weekend in December and, although the roads from town to the farm were solid ice, we had good crowds of people for the three day event. People, especially kids, are quite interested in seeing the process wool goes through from raw wool off the back of a sheep to finished yarn. With the high cost of propane and natural gas this year, lots of folks were interested in the solar system we use to heat wool wash water. They were amazed to see water coming in from the solar panels on the roof at 160 degrees when the outside air temperature was below zero. We are increasingly happy that we decided to put this system in a few years ago. By doing as much of the wool washing as possible on clear days, we are able to use very little propane.
We hadn't experienced any predation on our flock since October when the sheep were on summer pasture close to the mountains and mountain lions, but during the last few days of December three coyotes have moved in. They have killed at least one lamb and may have killed another. They have been showing up between 2:00 and 7:00 in the morning and usually wake us up with their howls. We can move them off with a spot light if we do wake up. Our lamas have not been effective guards lately and we really wish the guard dogs we tried last year had worked out. We will bring the lambs into a lighted corral close to the barns at night until these coyotes leave the area. So far they have not attacked the ewes which are in another nearby pasture. There is one lama with the ewes and maybe he is a bit more alert and active than the lamas with the lambs.
|Cyrus was a very useful guard for many years keeping coyotes at bay. Maybe he is experiencing a mid-life crisis.|
|Becky has been experimenting with several ways of making rugs. This is woven from roving straight off the carding machine. The pattern is created by mixing natural wool colors on the carder.|
|The red in this rug is made with Madder Root dye. The other colors are natural wool colors.|
November started with warm Fall weather with daytime temperatures in the 50s and even 60s and cool nights in the 30s. Saturday after Thanksgiving it began to snow early in the morning and it didn't stop until Sunday night when we had over two feet of snow on the ground. It was a beautiful storm with almost no wind. We haven't seen snow like that in November in quite a few years. Some of our new rams have just come in from the coast of Oregon where they may not have seen snow. They are probably wondering what this is all about.
November is breeding month at Thirteen Mile Farm. The gestation period for sheep is just over 5 months so our ewes bred in November will lamb in April; at least that's the plan. The ewes are all at home now and are distributed in six pastures with six rams. We try to keep them in separate groups for about a month. By that time almost all of the ewes should be bred and we will be able to track the production of each ram next spring.
Our wool mill is operating well and we are producing quite a lot of yarn and trying to keep up with orders for yarn and knitted products for the Christmas season. We have an open house and Christmas sale during the first weekend in December and we are working to get ready for that.
|Our Navajo Churro sheep are a very distinct breed and we don't want to turn them in with our commercial flock for breeding. We borrowed a ram (the big guy on the right with the impressive horns). He will go back home to a ranch in Ennis, Montana in December. We still haven't figured out just what we are going to do with these Churros. They are interesting animals and are much wilder than our other sheep.|
|Pastures that had been green for most of November looked like this after Thanksgiving.|
|The fall rains and warm weather had provided good, fresh pasture until the end of the month. These are some of our 2005 lamb crop. We had been supplementing their pasture with a little second cutting alfalfa hay, but with two feet of snow, we are feeding hay every day to all the sheep.|
|Peterson had not been in the house since May, but snow and below zero nights has brought him to the couch. It looks as if he is planning to sleep through the Winter. The couch is about five feet from the wood stove that heats our house.|
The mountain lions in the high pastures are apparently still in mood for mutton and killed several of our ewes so by the middle of the month we had to bring all of the sheep back to the home place. The six Navajo Churro sheep and their two lamas have been with our main flock now for most of the Summer but they have not been assimilated. These eight animals remain a tightly knit group and associate with the other sheep as little as possible. When we gathered up the flock to drive them down the road several miles to home, we couldn't find the Churros. We had visions of them going over the fence and heading into the mountains to try out life in the wild or be eaten by lions. A thorough search of the pasture revealed a gate broken by a neighbors horse and we were relieved to find the churros hiding in a draw.
During the last week of the month we drove to Canby, Oregon to buy three Border-Leicester rams. We are replacing all of our rams this year and with breeding season about to begin in early November, we still needed more rams. We did the round trip of 1600 miles in two days and we were able to pick a window between snow storms.
Fall colors here in montana are primarily yellows and browns in the Aspens and Cottonwoods. By mid-October the trees stretching from our fields to the mountains are bright yellow. It is a beautiful time of the year.
|Many of our lambs are now well over 100 lbs.|
|These are some of the sheep we brought down from higher pastures when mountain lions began attacking them. We lost two more ewes to coyotes after bringing them home. Usually our lamas are pretty good at keeping the coyotes away but occasionally one will get through.|
|The Montana Alternative Energy Resources Organization, AERO, has awarded our operation their 2005 Sustainable Agriculture Award. AERO is a Montana organization dedicated to promoting sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, environmental quality, and Community self reliance. We are very pleased to receive this award.|
|By the end of October we have had several snows but the snow has melted off and we have had no really cold weather. The grass in many of our pastures is still green and growing. Although the sheep are still grazing, this late season grass doesn't have much protein constant and we will soon begin supplementing the lambs feed with alfalfa hay harvested last summer.|
All of our sheep had returned to our home pastures in late August and in September we sorted off the lambs and moved the flock of ewes back onto leased pasture near the mountains. In the Spring mountain lions had killed several of our lambs in these high pastures but there was still quite a lot of good grass and we decided to see if the lions were feeding on mule deer this time of year and might leave the sheep alone.
No we haven't located a new pond on Thirteen Mile Farm. This is Greenstockings Lake at the head of the Yellowknife River in the Northwest Territories, Canada. We arrived here on the first of September and started down the river reaching Great Slave Lake two weeks later.
For much of September we are sharing our pastures with about 100 elk. There are at least four bulls in this herd and on many nights we go to bed and wake up to the sound of their bugling.
Summer goes by quickly at Thirteen Mile Farm and we find it difficult to sit at a computer and update our web site. The days are long here and in late June and July, it is light until 10:00 pm. So here is a news page for three months.
The Spring rains continued through June diminishing somewhat from April and May but still maintaining green fields and good forage growth. By the end of June we were ready to begin haying and we anticipated a much better year than the last 7 or 8 have been. The days turned hot and dry by the end of the first week in July and we were able to harvest all of our hay, about 160 tons, with no rain on any of it. This is less than we have harvested in the last few years but we plan to trim back the flock somewhat this year and will not need as much hay to get through the winter. Our yields on a per acre basis were almost twice as high as last year but still not up to the yields we experience in during the 1980s when the climate was "normal" here. Our best fields produced 2.5 tons per acres this year and our average yield was slightly less than 2.0 tons per acre.
Work in the wool mill has progressed all summer. We encounter new problems and discover new solutions almost every week in the mill. Processing raw wool into high quality finished yarn is a complex process with many variables. We are focusing a processing our own wool during the late summer and trying to catch up on yarn orders.
The end of summer, late August and early September, is the best time for us to get away from the farm and again this year, we will go to northern Canada for a two week canoe trip in the Northwest Territories and get our annual fix of lakes, rivers, and the barrens and tundra of the north.
|In early June, our fields were as green as they have been for many years.|
|In late June the local chapter of the Montana Conservation Voters held their annual solstice party at the farm. This has become a tradition now with a picnic each year for four years. This year many of the candidates for the November 2005 Bozeman elections attended. Here Larry Jent, one of Bozeman's state legislators addresses the group.|
|July is haying month at Thirteen Mile Farm. Our schedule is set by the weather and when it is dry and warm, which is most of the month, we are haying. We try to rotate between grazing and harvesting hay on our fields and we don't like to take hay off a field in two consecutive years. Becky is mowing here on a hazy day in mid-July.|
|We try to mow as often as possible in the afternoon. As the day progresses, both the sugar and protein content of the hay increase and hay harvested late in the day in more palatable and nutritious.|
|Usually after the hay has dried for two to three days in windrows, we rake pairs of windrows into a single larger windrow. This turns over the hay helping to dry the bottom of the windrow and also creates a larger windrow and a shorter path for the baler. Raking is usually done early in the morning when there is some dew on the hay and less damage will be done to the fragile leaves..|
|Later the same day, when the moisture level in the hay is reduced to about 18%, we bale into large round bales, each weighing about 1200 pounds. Sometimes this will be done at night to achieve optimum moisture levels. These bales we stack in a hay yard near the barns covered with tarps.|
|July is also raspberry month. The last couple of years because of late frosts, hungry Bald Hornets, and deer that like to prune the canes, we haven't had very good berries, but this year the weather and season was just right and we picked many quarts of large, juicy berries from a pretty small patch behind our house.|
|In the second week in August, we brought the main flock of sheep back to the farm. They had been on leased pasture all Summer. They are grazing on regrowth alfalfa on a field that was mowed about a month earlier. This provides very rich late summer feed for the growing lambs.|
|Our two llamas, Cyrus and Sam, have done their predator control duties well the is summer. We lost lambs early in the Spring to a fox but we don't think we have lost any during the summer although the flock has been in an area where predators have had opportunities.|
|The two Border-Leicester rams are doing well. They have been on a schedule of two shearings a year and are due to be sheared.|
|During late July and August we have had thunder storms almost every day. The storms sometimes bring high wind and, hail, and usual minimal moisture. They will sweep through valley usually from the west and will pass quickly, followed by clear skies. A tiny hole in the clouds let a little sunlight through to brighten this black sky with a rainbow.|
The rains of April have continued throughout May with significant moisture every few days and no really hot weather yet. This Spring is much like what we experienced in the mid-1980s when we arrived at the Thirteen Mile Farm. Our fields are the greenest we have seen in 10 years and we are looking forward to a good summer. The sheep have moved off the home ranch and are now on near by leased pasture where they will be until late Summer.
We are experiencing one of the most vexing predation problems ever this Spring. For several years the local fox population has been increasing and most of these foxes never bother the sheep. They help keep the ground squirrel population under control and we like to have them here. Last year a very large, light colored fox showed up and began eating small lambs. He is back this year (he probably never left) and for a while was taking a lamb each night. This year he has graduated to the larger lambs and has even killed one yearling ewe. He typically kills the lamb, eats only the internal organs and maybe a little of a hind leg, and leaves the rest. The fox is quick and smart and operates under the radar of the lamas. We have had some success with going out into the pastures at night and early morning with bright search lights and leaving trucks parked among the sheep and by the end of the month the fox seemed to be gone. Our local coyote population is way down this Spring after a near by ranch brought in a government Wildlife Services hunter to shoot and trap coyotes. The lack of coyotes seems to embolden the foxes.
|We bring in almost all of our rams from other ranches to improve our genetic diversity and to enhance either wool or carcass characteristics. After last years breeding season we decided to replace all of the rams for the next year. These two Border-Leicester rams are from a ranch in Oregon. The brown one is ours and the white one belongs to a neighboring ranch but is spending the summer with us.|
|A neighbor in the Shields Valley has given us a small group of Navajo-Churro sheep and two guard lamas. The Navajo-Churro are descended from the Churra, an ancient Iberian breed first introduced to the new world by the Spanish in the 16th century. They are the oldest domesticated sheep breed in North America.|
|The Navajo-Churro has a long staple of protective top coat and a soft undercoat. It was from this wool that the early Rio Grande, Pueblo, and Navajo textiles were woven. We will experiment with blends of this wool with some of our finer fibers to see what yarns we can produce.|
|The second of three felting workshops was held at the farm this month.|
|This workshop focused on three dimensional solid felted pieces. Most of the people made fantastic and whimsical dolls or animals.|
|We sold our small herd of cattle last year but we kept a few steers. This is Betty's last calf on our place, now 27 months old and probably well over 1400 lbs. He has been on grass hay all winter and spring pasture for the last month. We have a good supply of high quality grass-fed beef available now.|
April was lambing, warm-wet snow and rain, and school kids. By the end of the month most of our ewes had lambed and we had about 450 new lambs. We probably had more snow in April than in the previous three months but it was usually warm, wet snow that often was melting at about the same rate it fell and we will never complain about the moisture. By the end of the month our fields are greening up nicely with new grass and it looks like the early growing season when our cold season grasses grow will be good. However there is very light snow pack in the mountains and farms and ranches relying on irrigation water from surface sources will be in trouble this summer.
This past month has been the time for school children to visit Thirteen Mile Farm and see new lambs but also go through the wool mill and learn about going from raw wool of the back of a sheep to a finished knitted sweater. We have been visited by one group of home schooled kids with their parents and six other school classes from as far away as Sheridan, Montana.
Greg Smith from the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) and Krista Wright from the Montana Outdoor Science School (MOSS) brought a group of 5th and 6th graders from Anderson School in Bozeman. The kids helped to feed bum lambs and toured the wool mill but they also planted willows along some of our stream banks and they put up some blue bird houses. Krista has worked with these kids before and they have a good understanding of the ecological benefits of establishing willows on the streams. GVLT holds the conservation easement on Thirteen Mile Farm and Greg monitors the easement and also helps us out at shearing time.
After lots of soul searching, we decided to sell our two guard dogs puppies to another ranch. The dogs spent four months at their home farm and became more comfortable with people than with sheep. We tried to everything we could think of to get them to stay with the sheep, but they would always find their way back to the farm buildings and people.
|By the end of the month the pastures were green and the sheep were happy to be eating fresh grass again. We were happy to finally be through with feeding hay for another year .|
|These lambs are about a month old. They work hard at trying to graze on the fresh grass as they see their mothers doing, but if you watch closely, they don't really eat much. They are still nursing and growing primarily on their mother's milk.|
|Krista Wright has some of the some of the Anderson School 5th graders planting willow shoots on a creek bank on Thirteen Mile Farm. This "creek" is actually a spring-fed drainage ditch excavated in the 1930s to drain some of our pastures. There are lots of muskrats, a few mink and weasels and ducks and birds along the creek. We hope the willows will help stabilize the banks and provide further habitat for small animals and birds.|
|These kids have got their willows planted.|
|The crew also put up several blue bird houses on fence posts.|
|After planting willows, the kids came back to the barns and helped feed a several bum lambs. For many, this was the high point of the visit. This lamb had been difficult to feed and really didn't know how to suck on a bottle but it responded to these kids and learned to drink as this picture was taken.|
|Polk and Reese are growing fast and now weigh about fifty pounds. They are wonderful dogs and we have enjoyed having them here, but they are not developing into the guard dogs we had hoped for and we have sold them to another ranch. They are now at Lava Lake Ranch in Idaho with approximately 8,000 sheep and other mature guard dogs. They will be separated and will each work with a band (1000 sheep), at least one mature dog, and a herder. We think they will function better in this environment.|
|Our local herd of 100 or so elk came back in mid April. We have been seeing them about five miles south of the farm during much of the Winter but they are now nearby. We also had a moose in one of our lower pastures this month. There are moose in the Bridger Mountains several miles away, but we rarely see them this far out in the valley.|
The warm dry weather of January and February continued into early March and we were pleased with this as we sheared the sheep on March 3. We usually shear a few weeks before the new lambs are born for several reasons: The lambs can begin nursing more easily when they don't need to search for a teat through thick wool. The mothers are more likely to seek shelter during storms and have their lambs in protected places if they don't have a warm wool fleece. Shearing is a difficult and chaotic operation if lambs have already been born and are trying to follow their mothers. For all of these reasons we were glad to be able to schedule the shearing crew on the third, about three to four weeks before lambing was due to begin. Olin Raisland who has run the shearing crew we have used for the last few years has taken a job in the platinum - paladium mine south of Big Timber, Montana and given up shearing. This year we were able to get Olin's brother Alvin, who also runs a shearing crew to do our flock. We worry about being able to find shearers in future years. It is a hard job and one that not many young people find attractive.
Lambing was supposed to start in April but we had forgotten to tell all the sheep and a few of them jumped the gun and lambed during the last week in March. By the end of the month we had over a hundred new lambs on the ground. The lambs are born in the fields near our building and are moved into small 4 foot by 5 foot jug pens where they spend about a day with their mothers before they move into small pastures with about 100 ewes and 150 lambs. It is a busy time of the year for us.
|Greg and Mem are sorting the sheep and loading them into a chute which leads to the shearing trailer. We had a beautiful warm and sunny day this year for shearing.|
|The sheep are bunched up in pens ready for shearing. This year we sheared all the dark sheep (over half our flock) first.|
|The sheep follow (sometimes with some encouragement) a ramp up into the shearing trailer.|
|Inside the trailer four shearers are working. In past years we have set up a chute and shearing floor inside one of our buildings (see Old News, March, 2004), but this year Alvin brought a trailer with five internal shearing stations. The sheep move into the trailer on the left and are sheared in the center. The sheared sheep exit through doors to the right and the fleeces are taken out through low openings on the left. This self contained outfit allows the crew to operate on a ranch with no available indoor space.|
|Grahm and Roxanne are waiting to take wool fleeces out of the trailer.|
|Jerolyn, Lane, and Bill are sorting the fleeces and discarding soiled belly wool. Some fleeces are packed separately in boxes.|
|Jim is loading wool into a hydraulic packer which packs the wool into 4 foot cubical bales weighing about 400 lbs.|
|At the end of the day, we have 370 freshly shorn sheep and lambs.|
|This mother is slightly overwhelmed with three new lambs. They are just a few hours old here. We don't like to see triplets for very few of our ewes can produce enough milk for three. This year we have had many sets of twins but more than a few triplets. We usually pull one of the triplets off the mother and a neighbor, Amelia, with help from her mother takes the new lambs and raises them on a bottle.|
|By the end of the month, we had over 100 new lambs.|
|Lambing season is one of Taiga's favorite times of the year. There is almost always something to do and during the rare quiet moments there are all those new lambs to watch.|
February is the month of eagles here on Thirteen Mile Farm. We have Eagles around during the rest of the year, mostly Bald and a few Golden, and two eagles sit in a cottonwood tree across the the road for most of the Winter, but in February they appear in great numbers and stay for about a month. We used to think that they stayed in our area until the ice went out of the rivers after which they would move to the rivers and fish, but this year there is no ice on the rivers so that theory doesn't hold. By the end of the month a few gophers (Richardson Ground Squirrels) were showing up and these will keep the eagles busy and well fed.
The unseasonable warm dry weather which began in January has continued through the entire month and now there is talk of a serious water crisis in much on Montana. The mountain snowpack is at an all time record low with only a month or so expected snowfall left. The forecast going into early March is for more high pressure stable air with no significant precipitation. It looks like all the rain and snow is falling in Southern California where they have far more than they need.
We have used lamas as guard animals for the sheep for quite a few years with considerable success but during the last year, we have lost lambs and sheep to coyotes and foxes and the lamas seemed not to be too concerned. We have considered using guard dogs for some time and this Spring we have taken the plunge and purchased two Maremma / Spanish Mastiff puppies who we hope will mature into good guards. See their pictures below. Right now the dogs are just jolly puppies and we are working to train them to walk on a leash and to come to us when called so that we can control them, but as soon as they are mature enough, they will spend all of their time with the sheep.
|This eagle will sit in the cottonwood in front of our house for hours at a time. He watches lambs in a close-by pasture and keeps an eye on the roosters under the tree. So far he hasn't eaten any. We can walk by under him and watch him out of the corner of our eye, but if we look directly at him or point a camera in his direction, he is gone.|
|When a camera is pointed at him, he rolls off the limb..|
|...and he is on his way. He makes a big circle maybe a mile in radius and may or may not return to the same limb. But he will be back another day.|
|White 54 (her ear-tag #) is one of Becky's favorite sheep. She is as steady and unflappable as they come. She is about a month away from lambing and is pretty wide. When she has her lambs, and she will almost certainly have twins or maybe triplets this year, they will always be together and within ten feet of her for the first month or so.|
The newest residents of the farm are Poke and Reese, four month old puppies full of energy. They are Maremma - Spanish Mastiff crosses and weigh about 35 pounds now and will be about 100 pounds when fully grown. These dogs were born on a farm in Wisconsin with sheep and will be raised here with sheep. As soon as possible, we will turn them out into the pastures and they will spend all the time with the flock as guards. But first, they have some growing to do.
|These sheep will be sheared in less than a week. They have a full years growth of wool and would like the days to be a bit cooler.|
January came in with 25 to 30 below zero nights and zero days with good cold snow on the ground. However, by about the 10th on the month a warm chinook wind blew in from the South bring temperatures near 50 degrees. A thaw in January like this is not uncommon here and it usually lasts several days. This thaw lasted the rest of the month with several days in the high 50s. Our snow has completely disappeared and in some places the ground has thawed. The snow pack in several places in Montana is the lowest on record. We had hoped that with the rains of last Summer and Fall the drought in this region might be breaking, but this Winter has dashed those hopes and it now looks like we will enter our 7th year of drought in 2005. We often have heavy snows in February and March but, with the current snow pack in the mountains at an all-time low, it is unlikely that we will catch up.
Those who have followed our progress building a wool processing mill know that, although we have been washing picking, carding, and pin-drafting fibers for almost a year, we have we have worked for some time to develop a spinning capability. Back in October, 2003 we moved a 1960s vintage Whitin Model M, 16 spindle spinning frame for a woolen mill in North Carolina to our farm. Our plan was to rebuilt that machine but we soon discovered that we could not find the parts we needed and the cost of machining new parts would be prohibitive. After a world-wide search for a machine that would produce the semi-worsted yarn we want make, handle the long fiber lengths we often encounter, and that we could afford, we tore down the Whitin frame, salvaged the precise parts that were still in good condition, and contracted with Stonehedge Fiber Milling Equipment, Inc. in East Jordan, Michigan to build a new spinning frame using as many of the salvaged parts as possible. The resulting machine, delivered in November, 2004, is an eight spindle machine with modern variable rate DC motors driving the various rolls and spindles and allowing the draft and spin rate to be adjusted easily and quickly. We have worked through December and January to fine tune this machine and have now begun to produce a quality of yarn we are pleased with.
|By mid January our snow was gone, the days were warm, and it felt and looked like late April.|
|A neighbor who raises chickens had a couple of roosters that were picking on her hens so we have inherited two new residents. They have moved into one of our barns and seem to get along with the rams who also use the that barn. At this time of year there are many eagles nearby, but so far the roosters have avoided becoming eagle dinner. They have also reduced our need for alarm clocks.|
|Wool mittens have been a big seller for us this Winter. If it ever gets cold again, there may be even more demand for these.|
|We have been making felt for almost a year and recently, Graham Curry who works in the wool mill, has started doing needle felting and producing place mats like this one.|
|Our spinning frame in finally operating. Here only three of eight spinning heads are full as we finish up one batch of wool.|
|We have been experimenting lately with a number of natural dyes. We don't have purple sheep.|
|Some yarn fresh off the spinning frame.|
The warm Fall weather continued through most of December. Finally during the last few days of the month a several snow storms dropped about a foot of snow in the area and it began to look more like Winter. Our pastures go through the Winter in better shape when the ground is frozen and the remaining grass is protected by a layer of snow so we were pleased to have snow cover.
|For the first time this year we had a Holiday Sale in mid-December. We cleaned up the drying barn (also a lambing barn) and set out lots of knitted products, felt, yarn, and other wool items. We also provided tours of the wool processing facility. For three days, a Friday through Sunday, we had an almost constant stream of people visiting the farm.|
|The unseasonably warm weather continued through most of December and this is what our fields looked like just before Christmas. Not much of a white Christmas.|
|A few days after Christmas Winter arrived with several snowfalls. By the New Year, we had a foot of snow on the ground and below zero days and nights.|
|Our lambs enjoy their hay more when it is really Winter.|
We have experienced a long, warm, and wonderful Fall here in Montana. With numerous light rains and several light snows, we are going into the Winter with much better soil moisture than in the past few years. Our grass was green until mid October and we didn't begin feeding hay regularly until late October. We will now feed every day until mid May when the grass greens up again. There is snow in the mountains but we still don't have anything on the ground here at the farm. Our local Montana legislative house district turned out to have far too many Republicans for Dave to win an election, so he is back on the farm working to catch up on the many things we put off during this past Summer and fall. The campaign was an interesting experience with many good meetings and conversations; just not enough votes.
We put the rams in with the ewes in October and our ram who was injured by dogs last Spring seems to be doing alright. We thought we would take it easy on him and put him in a pasture with a fairly small flock but, although he gets around with a pretty bad limp, he had the strength and energy to go through a fence into an adjoining pasture to reach more ewes when he had apparently finished with his allotted group. I guess he is going to make it. We hope to get a new breeding ram lamb out of the group he bred.
After many years of successful predator control by our two llamas, we have experienced several losses to a single coyote this Fall. We are not sure exactly what has caused this early retirement by our guards but we have seen a coyote kill a lamb with a llama standing by and watching. We are looking into guard dogs and will probably have a couple of new guards in the Spring.
The wool mill is going full blast now processing wool from other ranches and our own. We have worked over the last months experimenting with washing temperatures, different soaps, carding speeds, and pin drafting techniques, water softening, and working the bugs out of the operation. It is probably just as well we weren't spinning at the same time. This might have been too much at one time, but during the last few days in November our newly built spinning frame was delivered. We'll talk more about that next month as we begin to climb another learning curve.
|Mem and Grahm are laying out a large felt piece here on the table. They have been making rugs, wall hangings, place mats, and other felt things for the last few months while washing, picking, and carding wool. Some of their latest creations are shown below.|
The summer of 2004 went by in a flash at Thirteen Mile Farm. For those of you who keep up with events here by way of the News Page, we apologize. There was just no time to sit down at the keyboard and write the news each month. Becky has been more than busy bring the wool mill up to speed and training new employees along with the normal ranch work and Dave, in a moment of insanity, decided to run for a seat in the Montana House of Representatives. Along with the usual ranch work, we have been running a political campaign. Six more weeks until the election!
The cool, wet weather that began in May continued through much of the summer and, although much of the west is still locked in a drought, here in the Gallatin Valley we experienced a wetter than normal season. In fact in early July, we were unable to get a four day window of hot, dry weather to cut, cure, and bale hay and the first field we mowed was rained on for a week. Later in the month we did get some good haying weather but the entire process of putting up a years supply of hay stretched into late August; almost a month later than usual. Now, in mid September, we still have one field of big round bales to load and haul back several miles to the home place.
The ram who was attacked by dogs in May has made a remarkable recovery. The ligaments and tendons on the back of his right rear leg were completely destroyed and we thought that, if he were ever able to walk and breed, he would have to get around on three legs, and we weren't even sure if he could survive the trauma. He not only is alive and well but he walks almost normally on all four legs. We can't quite figure out how he is able to make that leg support his weight but he is doing it. As fall comes on and the days get shorter and cooler, the rams become aggressive and begin to fight among themselves. We will have to watch him and make sure his other ram friends don't take out his injured leg.
|We had a booth at the Sustainability Fair in Livingston, Montana again this year.|
|Some of our more colorful products on display at the fair.|
|In July and August big thunderstorms were a familiar sight. The mountains and out pastures are much greener than during the last five summers. Our hay yields, while still not up to average, were much better than in the last few years and we still have good pasture in mid- September.|
|This fencing job was scheduled to be completed in May and we may finish in in September. At least it will be the same year. Becky is getting help and advice setting this post from some of our yearling steers.|
|House district 68 reaches from just north of Bozeman to just south of East Helena and includes. The district is about 80 miles north-south by 50 miles east-west and includes about 9000 people. It also includes 2 saw mills, a lime mine, a ski area, portions of 2 national forests, and lots of ranch and farm country producing beef, lamb, wool, seed potatoes, wheat, barley, hay, grass seed, alfalfa seed, canola, and a few other crops.|
May has been a tough month at Thirteen Mile Farm. For several years foxes have denned and raised pups next to pastures with young lambs, and this year we have a fox den very close to the sheep and we have seen one of the adult foxes mousing among the sheep and lambs with no apparent problems. However, this year a much larger and grayer fox has showed up and he eats lambs. With over 400 lambs in the pastures, we don't count the lambs often and we don't know how many lambs we have lost to the fox but it may have been quite a few. A couple of large, healthy looking coyotes showed up mid-month and harassed the fox den for a day or so and them moved on without bothering the sheep. Then a mangy coyote without a tail moved through the farm but didn't stay long. Last, and worst, two dogs jumped into a small pasture we rent on land north of our home place where we had eight rams. The dogs forced two of the rams to jump over a gate and attacked one ram and tore him up badly. Becky and Roxanne, our neighbor who is a veterinary technician, sewed him back together and he is alive, but we don't know if he will survive or ever breed again. The injured ram is the Border-Leicester ram we showed on the November, 2003 news and is one of our best rams. He is also probably the least aggressive which may explain why he was the one attacked by the dogs. The owner of one of the dogs stood next to her dog who had blood smeared over his face and explained that her dog would never attack a sheep and she didn't believe in confining a dog.
We did get several days of rain late in the months and nearby weather station recorded between 2 and 3 inches. This rain and cool weather has helped our pastures and will probably improve our early hay yields however, the regional drought continues with much of the state and region extremely dry.
Occasionally bees will swarm out of the hives and settle on a nearby tree or fence. This happened a week ago. These bees stayed in this apple tree foe several days, disappeared for a day and then returned for another day before finally leaving for good. We are never sure what causes them to do this.
Our felting machine is operating in the wool mill and we have been experimenting with different felt products. Here is a throw rug made with natural colors of felted wool.
Here are a few experimental felt place mats, also in natural colors:
April was lambing month at Thirteen Mile Farm. By the end of April, only about 30 ewes had not yet produced lambs and we had about 350 new lambs. It has been a good lambing season with mild weather, green grass for the ewes and relatively few problems, but it is a relief to have most of it over for the year. Usually in April we expect to have to bring the lambs into a barn far a day or two before turning them back out, but this year we worried more about the lambs getting overheated than cold, and most spent no more than one night under cover. The warm days have been wonderful for the new lambs but we wonder what the summer will bring. This is the weather we normally see in late June. The cool season grasses are growing now but will soon stop if the hot weather continues.
We have watched several foxes working through our pastures all winter searching for mice under the snow, and a few days ago one of the foxes showed up with 5 new pups. They are covered with gray fur and are about 6 inches long. We are not sure when they were born but the mother brought them out in the open at the end of April.
We also have what appears to be a new band of coyotes in the area. A neighboring rancher thinks that about a year ago, an outbreak of the Parvo virus decimated the local coyote population. When something like that happens, and a pack of coyotes is eliminated or severely reduced in number, new individuals will move into the void left by the old pack and repopulate the area, eventually forming a new pack. This appears to be what is happening and the new coyotes don't know the rules yet. We don't think we have lost any lambs yet, but we have had coyotes, in broad daylight, moving through our pastures. Sam, one of our llamas is doing a great job of watching over the new lambs. A pair of the coyotes were racing around the fox den early one morning and may have been trying to get at the fox pups and kill them.
Our wool mill is operating full time now with four people working. We are still not spinning but we are gradually working the bugs out of the washing, picking, and carding processes and we learn more with each new batch of wool we run.
|The grass is about a month ahead of schedule here in the valley. It is wonderful to have the new mothers on fresh green grass and the warm weather helps get the lambs off to a good start, but we do wonder what the summer has in store for us with 80 degree weather in April.|
|One afternoon a group of about 35 home schooled children stopped by to visit the lambs. With just a few kids, we can usually catch a lamb and let them pet it but with this many, the ewes and lambs were a bit wild.|
|Sam, one of our llamas, was very curious about the children and quickly made friends with them.|
|This lamb is just a few hours old and has a very protective mother.|
|Our sheep all lamb outside in the pastures and, if it is cold or storming, we bring them into a barn right away. The mild and warm conditions this year have allowed us to leave the ewes and lamb out on the pasture for most of the first day. We usually bring them into the barn and a small pen for a night, and turn them out into a pasture with other new lambs and mothers in the morning. Becky and Taiga are working this pair toward the barn.|
|Toward the end of the month we took an afternoon off and hiked into the mountains behind our place. We got home at about 5:00 pm to find our yard full of sheep and one llama. We had left a gate open and the sheep moved in. Fortunately we don't have a garden started yet.|
Around here March is normally a month with variable weather but lots of snow. Montana skiers often say that March offers the best skiing of the year at nearby Bridger Bowl and Big Sky but not this year. We have experienced day after day of near summer conditions with daytime temperatures approaching 70. In eastern Montana several days topped 80 degrees. Our local weather station at the airport recorded 0.26 inches of precipitation which makes this the driest March since records have been kept. The snow, which had been on the ground since December, melted away quickly and was absorbed by the soil with no runoff. Year after year we keep thinking that maybe next year it will begin to rain again and we will see "normal" weather patterns but it is beginning to look like there is a new "normal" and we cannot expect the moisture that we used to plan on. This may require a reevaluation of agricultural practices in this entire region.
We sold most of our cows and calves this month. This was a difficult decision for us because we liked the cows and they complimented our sheep in several pasture management schemes but we can't meet the demand for our lamb and, although we have expanded our land base with leased pasture and hay fields, we can't seem to produce enough hay during these dry years to expand our flock as much as we would like. The cattle just didn't make sense any longer. We will still offer a limited supply of grass fed beef with our own yearlings steers this year and with calves we purchase from a nearby certified organic ranch and raise on our place in future years, but we are getting out of the cow/calf business.
Our processing mill is up and running. We have two people working in the mill and, although we are not able to spin yarn yet, there is quite a demand for carded roving and we are making alot of it.
|We sheared the sheep March 9th this year. It was a beautiful day with bright blue skies and warm air. The sheep were under cover the night before to keep the wool as dry as possible. The day begins with the sheep going down a sorting chute which leads into the shearing shed.|
|Once inside the sheep move along a narrow alley in the shed toward the shearing stations.|
|The alley ends with a narrow raised platform above the shearing floor.|
|The sheep are pulled off the platform onto the floor by the shearers. We had the same shearing crew this year as last with Olin, Jack, and Kendall shearing and Una running the packer. These people travel throughout Montana from December through May shearing on many ranches. Olin and Jack are from Montana where they have their own ranches. Kendall ranches in Saskatchewan, and Una runs an outfitting business with her husband when not with the shearing crew.|
|The sheared fleeces are moved to the sorting tables where Mem, Melissa, Meg, and Una sort the fleeces and discard the dirty belly wool. Some fleeces are boxed and stored for sale to hand spinners.|
|Once sorted, the wool goes into a hydraulic packer where in is compressed in square 400 pound bales.|
|We had an interesting visit from Miao Zhihui, the director of the Guizhou Provincial Environmental Monitoring Center in southern China. Among other responsibilities, the center monitors and certifies organic farms in Guizhou Province where 138 million people live. Mr. Zhihui is visiting the United States and wanted to visit a certified organic livestock production operation.|
|Although the snow has disappeared and the weather is warm and summer like, the grass hasn't grown much yet and we are still feeding hay each day.|
February is calving month on Thirteen Mile Farm and we have been blessed with wonderfully mild weather for the new arrivals. Last year we had calves born at 35 degrees below zero in blowing snow, but this year's calves were born on 35 and 40 degree bright sunny days. It's a lot easier that way and the calves get a great start. We did have to take our cows off the organic certification. Our hay yields were so low last summer that we did not have enough to get through the winter. After the third deal we made to purchase organic hay fell through, we bought first cutting alfalfa hay from a nearby ranch. It is good hay but it's not certified organic. The calves will still be grass fed but they cannot meet the Montana Organic Certification requirements. We have enough of our own hay to get the sheep through although no super-size meals for them.
The wool mill is up and running. We still are working a few bugs out of the washing system but it's close to fully operational. The solar water heating system is a great success. On a clear day, even in February the water circulating through the solar panels at midday is returned at over 180 degrees. The system shuts down when the 700 gallon reservoir reaches 180 degrees. This very hot water allows us to wash the wool with minimal agitation and we are pleased to not be burning propane to heat it. The picker and carder are running and we are producing roving and batts. We will be making felt in about a month. Our yarn production has been delayed as we are having trouble finding parts for the old spinning frame we are rebuilding. We are considering alternatives and probably will not be spinning yarn for several more months.
The sheep are still struggling with deep snow and hard crust. At about the middle of the month we experienced a warm chinook wind which quickly raised the temperature to over 50 degrees and brought in a hard rain. The next day the temperature dropped to well below freezing and developed a really hard crust on the snow. For several days the sheep were able to walk on the surface of the snow and the day after the rain we were driving our 7000 lb. tractor with a 1200 lb. hay bale on the snow and only sinking in a few inches. That's hard snow. Our dog loves it. The hard snow has made it difficult or impossible for deer to find forage and we are overrun with white tails. It has been common to have several hundred deer each evening in the nearby pastures where we have been feeding sheep and cattle. A guest staying with us a few weeks ago asked if we were raising sheep, cattle or deer. Another visitor noted that people raising deer have said that sheep cannot coexist with deer; the deer will die. We are not seeing this happen.
We have had our two resident eagles around all winter and now the crowds of eagles are coming in. We are not sure where they come from but February is the month when they show up here in large numbers. Gophers (Richardson Ground Squirrels) are beginning to come out on the snow and they make good eagle food. The foxes which denned nearby last year are still here and we expect to see new fox families before too long.
|We looked out the back window one morning and discovered that all the sheep and their trusty guard llama had broken open a gate and come home for breakfast. They had been in a pasture about 3/4 of a mile from the house but here they all were.|
|Like mother like son. Teeny's calf is a few days old and rapidly becoming the most active and playful in the crowd. His mother tries to keep close track of him but he is already ranging as far as he can.|
|HP's calf was our first and is a couple of weeks old here. Of course you can't hear them talking but the soft murmur the cows use to talk to their calves is a wonderful sound. They only seem to use this voice for the first few weeks of the calves lives but the calves always respond.|
|Erica's calf is only a few hours old but is already cleaned up, fed, and ready for her first nap in the sun.|
|Char's calf is about an hour old here and is also well fed and ready for a nap. The calves get a great start when they are born in this mild weather.|
January is over and the days are getting longer. The sun is higher in the sky and provides welcome warmth for much of the day. The snow which fell in late December is still on the ground but January has been a dry month with only a few more inches of new snow. In the third week of the month a couple of days of near fifty degrees followed by below zero formed a hard crust on the snow in the fields. The foxes, coyotes, weasels, and other lightweight animals love it as they can now run anywhere over the top of the snow. However, the sheep and deer have a very hard time moving through the crusted snow and try to stay in the tractor wheel tracks as much as possible. The cows can plow through the snow but clearly don't like it. They are now very close to calving and walk very slowly and carefully where they see ice or uneven hard-packed snow. Near the end of the month we brought the cows back to a pasture close behind the barn where we can watch them and move them into a sheltered corral in severe weather.
The sheep are still on a neighbors pastures north of our place where we are feeding out the hay harvested on that field. They will be there until about the third week in February when that hay will be finished. Then we will move them back home where they will be for shearing in March, lambing in April, and spring pasture in May.
The discovery of Mad Cow disease in the U.S. has generated another increase in interest in grass-fed, organically raised meat. We are again unable to meet the demand for our lamb and beef. Jo Robinson, editor of the web sitewww.eatwild.com, says "Mad Cow is just the most recent indication of an industry gone mad." She points out that that while USDA's move to ban meat from "downer" cows, brain and nerve tissue and older animals and to expand testing for BSE ("Mad Cow") were all good, the USDA has refused to address the far more serious threat from acid resistant E.coli that develops in grain fed cattle. "You are a thousand times more likely to die of E.coli 0157:H7 than Mad Cow disease." Look at Jo's web site. It is full of information on the many benefits of a grass-fed meat system.
We have made progress on our wool processing mill this month and we now have the picker, carder, and pin drafter installed and running. The wool washing system was the last thing completed in January and we are still working some of the bugs out of it. We turned on the solar water heating system toward the end of the month and although we have seen very little of the sun since then, the early indications are the system works well. On the single day of clear skies, the solar system heated the 700 gallon reservoir from 60 degrees to 138 degrees in about 5 hours. We have been surprised to see that on days when the sky seems completely overcast and snow is falling, the temperature in the solar collectors is often over 100 degrees and we are able to achieve some gain.
|These sheep are moving from one pasture to another and they don't want to leave the tractor wheel tracks. The snow is nearly 2 feet deep with a hard crust.|
|They have moved about a half mile and find hay spread out at the end of the walk.|
|Cyrus was at the head of the line on this trip. Often the ease of a move of the flock depends on how Cyrus feels about it. He usually figures out quickly what we want to do and then he decides whether he wants to cooperate. The sheep will usually follow him. On this particular day he was in good spirits and made the move fairly easy or at least as easy as it can be in this kind of snow.|
|The solar water heating system went into operation in January. The gray insulation-clad tank on the right is the 700 gallon hot water reservoir. The black-clad tank in the middle is the drain-back tank that stores the water which circulates through the solar panels when the system isn't operating. A copper pipe heat exchanger in the hot water reservoir removes heat from the circulating water.|
|The picker performs the first process the wool goes through after washing. The wool is compressed between two rollers while a rapidly rotating drum studded with sharp spikes tears the clumps of wool apart and spits them out in the wooden box.|
|Wool from the picker is fed through the carding machine where it is combed into a bat or roving of nearly parallel fibers.|
|The pin drafter combs the carded wool once more to produce a sliver of wool ready for the spinning process.|
December went by in a blur this year. We took orders off the internet and phone, boxed up items to ship, drove loads to Fed Ex, rushed home to feed sheep and cows, and tried to find some time to work on the wool mill and finish building the hoop barn. For most of the month the weather was wonderful for getting work done with clear moderate days with a few snow showers. The day after Christmas the weather service was predicting snow flurries. Our snow flurry was an 18 hour storm with almost two feet of snow followed by another 8 inches a couple of days later and then a deep freeze with 34 below nights and 10 below days. It was suddenly like the winters in Montana when we first moved here 17 years ago. We like the cold winter weather but it is a challenge to keep the tractors running each day to feed out round hay bales at these temperatures. We keep block heaters plugged in around the clock and we dilute the usual no. 2 diesel fuel with no. 1 to keep the fuel from turning to jelly, but the transmission / hydraulic fluid is cold and extremely stiff at 30 below and it is painful to start a machine. The transmission doesn't want to shift, the power steering doesn't want to turn, and none of the hydraulics want to work at all. We try to run everything as gently and possible and hope that nothing breaks.
Except for about 60 lambs, all our sheep and cows are on leased pastures north and east of our home place. We took hay off these pastures last summer and we are now feeding the hay out on the same pastures to put nutrients back into the soil. With the deep snow and cold temperatures, we are also feeding many deer and elk. We stacked quite a bit of hay in a hay yard near the pastures last summer planning to feed it nearby and, unfortunately, the hay yards aren't fenced to keep out deer and elk. There are often five to fifteen white tails in the yard when we arrive. The elk show up in the late afternoon and feed on the hay we have spread in the pasture. The first few times this happened, the sheep were intimidated and moved back to let the herd of about 100 elk have the hay. After a few days, the sheep got used to the visitors and now the sheep, cows, calves, elk and deer are all mixed together feeding on many late afternoons.
|In mid-December the crew from Radiant Engineering, Inc. installed the solar water heating panels on our barn. Each panel is 4 by 10 foot and there are two arrays of 4 panels each. We still don't have the system plumbed but when it is finished, water will circulate through the 8 panels and through a heat exchanger in a 700 gallon tank in the barn. The heated water from the indoor tank will be used to wash wool.|
At the end of the day, the panels were in place and we all breathed easier. The two panel arrays slope slightly toward the center. This is a drain-back system, and when the panels are not at a temperature where we can gain heat for the stored water, the water in the panels drains back into a holding tank inside.
We were happy to get the cover on the hoop building before the deep snow fell. Our neighbors, Bob and Mem Schultz helped one afternoon and we got the cover in place and nailed down. We will use this building for both drying washed wool and for lambing this spring.
|Sunday, December 28, the sun rose on a winter wonderland. The snow was light and dry and fell with very little wind. We were able to drive through it with the tractors to feed hay without too much trouble. In other parts of the state this storm was accompanied by high winds and ranchers had to break open roads to feed livestock with heavy equipment. Between Christmas and New Year our local ski area, Bridger Bowl, just across the ridge in this picture got over 100 inches of snow. We have many happy skiers here.|
November started exactly like last year with several days of below zero weather and blowing snow flurries followed by warmer weather. Unfortunately, what little snow we did get was dry and the drought has deepened. We have been feeding hay for over a month now and that has created a supply problem. Because of last summer's dry hot weather, our hay yields were far below normal. The fields we planted to grass last fall started out pretty well but died out in the heat of July and August and produced very little hay. We are often asked why we don't just buy hay in years like this when our supplies are low but our beef and lamb are certified organic and that means all feed must also be certified organic. There is no certified organic hay available if this region. In fact the concept of organic hay for sale doesn't make sense. When hay is harvested the nutrients removed from the soil must be replaced by manure generated by feeding the hay back on the same field in an organic operation or by chemical fertilizers on a non-organic farm. So the organic production of hay requires livestock. Repeatedly harvesting hay without putting anything back on the land will mine the nutrients out of the soil and eventually result in low quantity and quality yields. We have counted up all our bales and projected our needs throughout the winter and, although we cannot meet the demand for organic lamb and beef, we have had to take 5 calves and a number of ewes to the livestock sale this month.
The organic rules also require that the straw we use for bedding in the lambing barns be from a certified organic source. Few organic grain producers want to sell their straw because they need to work the residue back into the soil. The sheep don't eat the straw; they only sleep on it but because of this rule we will drive over 400 miles round trip and bring back 4 to 5 tons of organic barley straw on our flat-bed trailer when non-organically produced straw is available within a mile. Rules like this tend to discourage farmers from attempting to convert an operation from conventional to organic.
Tom and Julie at Mickey's Packing Plant have been after us for some time to develop a lamb sausage and back in September, we told them to begin experimenting. They have worked on several recipes for the last few months and we now have two new products: Rosemary Lamb Sausage and Spring Lamb Sausage. Both are made with all organic products. The initial response from our local customers has been very good. The sausages are vacuum packed in one pound packages and are now available on the lamb page of this site.
Work continued on the wool mill. We had originally hoped to have the mill in production by the end of October and we clearly have not made that deadline, but we are progressing and we now expect to begin operating in January. We moved the spinning frame off the trailer and into the barn late in the month. This was an interesting project as the frame weighs over 3000 lbs. We were able to run a chain through the building and use a tractor to pull the spinning frame down a ramp and into the building without breaking anything or squashing any people.
|The interior work on the barn is just about finished. There is still some electrical work and plumbing to do but the walls are sheet rocked and painted, the windows and doors are in, the floor is finished, the propane boiler is installed and we have heat. We are now ready to begin moving machinery in.|
|The new steel roof is on the barn. Solar water heating panels will eventually cover most on the lower section of the roof on the south side.|
|The new steel hoop building is progressing. We assembled the steel arches on the ground and used the tractor to lift them into place. For the first few arches, we didn't have a ladder from which we could reach the adjusting bolts, so we used the tractor again to lift Becky. We bought a taller ladder the next day.|
|These calves which started out last February at 80 to 90 lbs. are now over 600 lbs. and growing. Their mothers have been in a pasture about a mile away since the calves were weaned early in the month.|
|We usually bring in a few new rams each year introduce new genetics and hopefully to improve both our lambs and wool. This is a Border-Leicester from Cynthia Coe's ranch in Eastern Montana. We have bought rams from Cynthia in past years and have had good results from them.|
|We have been certified organic by OCIA but the Montana Department of Agriculture began an organic certification program for Montana and neighboring states this year using the USDA organic rules and, as of October 15, we are certified under this new program.|
October continued the weather pattern of 2003 with record setting temperatures and no significant precipitation. Beginning with October 17, we experience 6 consecutive days of temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s. This is mid summer weather here and not what we expect in October. Construction work on the barn continued and for that, we appreciate the mild weather. However, our pastures are drying out and we had to begin feeding hay before the end of the month.
|We have used this small corral south of the main barn to work and sort sheep and lambs for 15 years. The main barn has been used for lambing and since it will now be a wool mill, we need to build more covered space for lambing. We will build a hoop building in this spot and so must build another sorting facility and tear this one out.|
The corral is gone and the site is ready for foundation concrete. We will build a 30 ft. by 48 ft. hoop building here to use for lambing and for drying washed wool. Although we would have liked to see some rain and cooler weather this month, the late summer was a blessing for working on the foundation and pouring concrete.
The new sorting shutes are in the background.
|These are a few of the lambs born last March grazing on one of our last pastures with any significant remaining grass. We had hoped to get into the middle of November before feeding hay but the dry, hot weather finished off our grass and we started feeding in the last few days of October.|
|Even a dry Fall is a beautiful time here with Cottonwoods and Aspens turning. A few days after this picture was taken a strong west wind took most of the leaves.|
|The first major piece of equipment arrived this month. This is a Whitin Model M, 16 spindle spinning frame built in July, 1963 for a woolen mill in North Carolina. The machine was originally used to run experimental yarns in a mill where the production machine were much larger. As industrial woolen mills move to countries where labor costs are much lower than the United States, machines like this are becoming available. We will have to replace some broken parts to fully restore this frame but manuals and parts are still available and we expect to have it running by the first of the next year. The barn isn't ready yet and we will have to store this machine on the trailer for a week or two. Then the challenge will be to slide the 3000 lb frame off the trailer and into the barn.|
September was hot and dry. No surprise there. We got out of town for a two week canoe trip in northern British Columbia and Alaska; our annual northern landscape fix. Of course the day after we left, one of our steers decided to investigate a porcupine and ended up with a face and mouth full of quills. That hasn't happened here in over 10 years, but of course it would happen when we were gone. Our "ranch sitter" had to drive the cattle into a corral, sort off the curious steer, get him in a head catch, and pull out the quills. A few days later some of the sheep figured out how to break down a fence and get into one of the creeks we try to keep them out of. This presented another challenge for our sitter. You wonder why it is hard to find folks to stay and run the place when we leave town for a few days.
|The original cedar shingle roof had been covered with corrugated steel probably some time in the 1960s or 70s. Although the steel was in good shape, the screws used to hold down the steel sheets were causing many leaks and wind were driving rains and snow under the steel at the slope breaks on the roof. We decided to take the steel and cedar off and replace it with a new roof of standing rib steel sheets. The old corrugated steel sheets are in demand and will be used for siding a a house being built 20 miles east of here.|
|The inside of the barn is beginning to take shape. The walls and ceiling of the first floor are now insulated with corebond foam. The new electrical wiring is in place and the floor is ready to be finished. Although things look very torn up, we can begin to see the end of the barn rebuilding part of the wool mill project.|
Hot, dry, and smoky. That is what August has been here in Montana. The average daily high temperature in Bozeman was 15 degrees above the normal daily high based on over 100 years record. Billings has recorded 64 days without precipitation, a record since 1935. Fires are burning in many places in Montana and on some days smoke limits visibility to a few miles. On August 11 dry thunderstorms moved through the Gallatin Valley during the afternoon and evening. A lightening strike came down a few miles south of us in a grain field and immediately started a fire which ran north a quarter mile in a few minutes and ignited a stack of hay on a neighboring ranch. Fortunately, the local fire department arrived quickly and was able to control the spread of the fire and save the ranch building although it took all night to pull the one ton square bales off the stack, break them apart, and put out the fire. At about 10:00 PM that same night another lighting strike went into the mountains directly behind Thirteen Mile Farm and ignited a standing group of dead trees. For an hour or so the tree looked like a roman candle and we feared that the fire might sweep toward the top of the ridge but the burning trees were isolated on a rocky promontory with little fuel and the fire burned itself out. The next morning forest service firefighters came and used a helicopter to dump water on the fire.
We wish we had more progress to show on the wool mill project but for most of the month we were still tearing things down and not building much.
|The two 20 amp circuits in the barn would not begin to power the mill equipment so we have had to run a new underground line to the barn and install a new, larger transformer. A spring-fed creek runs between the power lines and the barn so rather than interfere with the creek and try to obtain a permit, we put the new line over the culvert, in the road. This required an additional two feet of fill in the road to provide cover for the power line. One job seems to lead to another in this project.|
|We will need several hundred gallons of water per day in the wool washing operation. Our existing well is at least 400 feet away from the barn and across the creek. So here goes a new well. We hit good water, 30 gallons per minute, at a depth of 100 feet.|
|Although the barn is extremely well built and probably our best building, the floor joists are 4" x 4" timbers on 16" centers. There are several concrete piers and beams to carry these joists but the floor where the carding and spinning machines will sit was not solid enough so we have poured a new concrete footing and placed wooden supports under each joint in the center of the span.|
|Gretchen Rupp keeps bees behind our house. These few hives always produce over one hundred and fifty pounds of honey in some years have produced as much as eight hundred pounds. This was not one of our best years, but we still ended up with quite a bit of good honey. Gretchen was working on the hives when the cows decided to come over and supervise.|
Hot, hot, hot! The rains stopped and the temperature went up at the first of July. Since then we have had continuous bright blue skies, brilliant sun, and temperatures in the 90s and often approaching 100. The cool season grasses in our pastures and hay fields stopped growing and headed out prematurely. We had hoped for a good hay harvest but by the end of the month it was clear that our yields are averaging 20% less than last year which was slightly below our long term averages. We keep planning to build up our sheep numbers as we are unable meet the demand for lamb but, once again, we will go into the winter with just enough hay to keep the existing flock fed. Because we are certified organic, we cannot go out onto the market and buy winter feed. There is no certified organic hay available within a reasonable distance. In June the state department of agriculture had declared the 4 year drought over but, by the end of July, all but a few counties in Montana were again declared drought areas.
The young foxes we showed in May have grown up and moved on but we have seen a fox several times recently right in among the grazing sheep. The sheep are absolutely unconcerned and we think that the fox is waiting for the sheep to frighten mice into moving whereupon the fox has a mouse for lunch. This is just a theory.
We started out on a major project this month; we are building a wool processing mill in our 75 year old barn and, by the end of the year, we will be producing washed wool, carded wool batts, felt, and yarn. For some time we have been frustrated sending our raw wool all over the country and Canada to be processed into batts or yarn. While we have gotten excellent results from some mills, our shipping costs are high and we don't have the control over the product that we would like. We have spent a good part of the last year studying machinery options. Our investigations included hours on the phone and internet, a trip to Michigan, and a trip to North Carolina by a consultant. We now have equipment selected and scheduled for delivery in October. We have been doing much of the preliminary work on the building ourselves but in August we will have contractors in to do roofing, insulating, electrical, plumbing, heating, carpentry, and sheetrocking. On one hand we are sorry to change the character of our barn, probably the best building on the farm, but we don't want the barn to be simply a museum or relic of times gone by so we are excited to transform it into a working facility. We will keep you informed of the progress.
|These staucheons have likely been in the barn since it was built in the 1930s. We haven't milked cows during our time here and the staucheons will now go.|
|We rented the "mother of all vacuum cleaners" to clean out 75 years of accumulated straw, hay, manure, dead cats, and the like from the crawl space under the barn floor. The dust was pretty bad and we thought the big vacuum would minimize the amount we inhaled.|
|The Vacuum cleaner had a 3 inch hose and was pretty effective at sucking up all kinds of stuff. The 4 by 4 floor joists are as solid as when they were first put in.|
|This space will eventually house most of the wool processing equipment.|
The good weather continued through June with several rains of over an inch late in the month. After many years of drought, the soil is very dry and the rains and spring snow melt percolate into the ground very quickly.
Lion predation in our sheep continued and when we began to loose a lamb each night so late in the month, we brought all the sheep and lambs back to the home place. We are several miles farther from the mountains then the leased pastures where the sheep were and the move seems to have solved the problem. We may move the ewes back to the mountain side pastures later in the summer and see if the mountain lions have moved on.
We had some of our yearling calves up on the same pasture as the sheep and one of the heifer calves went into heat and jumped three fences to join a neighbors herd of cows and two bulls. We had not planned to breed her; so much for that plan. The herd was in a fairly large pasture more than a mile across and we had to ask Ted and Pamela Bryant, neighboring ranchers, to come over with their horses and cut out the wandering heifer and bring her home.
|The Gallatin - Park County Chapter of the Montana Conservation Voters, MCV, had their annual Summer Solstice meeting and potluck party at our farm in late June. We use our flatbed trailer as a table for the dishes folks bring. About 80 people attended this event. Bozeman will have elections for the city commission in November and MCV will be active in that election.|
|Our cows, calves, and the ewes who lambed in May with their lambs are together in this pasture. Grazing the pasture with cows and sheep works well with the cows taking off the tall grass and the sheep working on the shorter grass and weeds.|
|These are a few of the May lambs, now about six weeks old.|
May has been a beautiful month with a few lingering snow squalls, frequent rains, and several warm sunny days. We haven't seen a Spring like this in at least five years and it is a welcome change. By the end of the month the grass was over a foot high in the hay fields. The fields we seeded last November are for the most part doing well but we did have to go back in and re-seed one 20 acre field which for some unknown reason did not take.
We moved the ewes with lambs that lambed in March onto rented pasture about three miles away in early May. They are on grass that in recent years we haven't grazed until later in the season. This year with the good moisture, the grass is good and the lambs seem to be thriving. Unfortunately, we have had some predation in this group. The pasture is within a mile of the mountains and we have lost several lambs to mountain lions. Although there is a llama with this flock, he can't do much with lions. In past years we haven't lost sheep or lambs to lions until September and October but for some reason this year is different. We showed a picture of Little Black in the December News, the bum lamb raised by our neighbor, Mimi. We kept Little Black in the flock and when she was about to lamb, we moved her back up to Mimi's place. She had a nice strong single black lamb and was doing a great job of raising it but sadly the lion took her lamb at about two weeks old.
|With the Spring snow and rain, the pastures have really greened up. By mid-May, we had good grass for the sheep and cattle. The calves are growing well.|
|This is the latest addition to our small herd of Cattle. His full name is Alberda Force 205 (we call him Alex) and he is a yearling bull from the Alberda Angus Ranch in Bozeman, Montana. We put him in with the cows at the beginning of May and he will stay through the end of June. In early July he will move across the road to spend the rest of the Summer and the Winter with Roxanne and Don Linderman's herd of cows. Sharing a bull works well for both of us. The bull we have had for the last couple of years was producing nice calves but had developed a habit of jumping fences to visit cows in neighboring fields. This is not good when we are often surrounded by folks raising cattle.|
|We watched adult foxes investigating this den last Fall and then didn't see much of them during the Winter but, this Spring four small foxes showed up. We still don't see the adults often but the pups are around playing on the bank almost every evening. Our main flock of sheep have been lambing on the pasture next to this den for the last month so the foxes have had plenty of activity to watch.|
|This fox den is only about two hundred yards away from the den shown above and has three small foxes in it. We were surprised to find two dens so close together. One wildlife biologist we talked to suggested that we might have one adult male with two females and two dens but we don't know if this is the case. At any rate we are well supplied with foxes this year. The adult foxes are keeping the gopher (Richardson ground squirrel) population in the adjacent field under control and we appreciate this.|
|We went to Portland, Oregon to attend the annual meeting of Sustainable Northwest (www.sustainablenorthwest.org) and received a Founders Award. It was fun to get out of town for a few days and see the big city lights. There were many interesting speakers at the meeting including Michael Shuman, author of Going Local and Judy Wicks, owner of the White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia. It was particularly stimulating to learn about a relatively new organization, Business Alliance For Local Living Economies (BALLE) (www.livingeconomies.org). BALLE is a group of business people dedicated to exploring positive alternatives to our current economic directions.|
The rains and snows continued throughout April and we were very pleased to get over three inches of precipitation by the end of the month. We haven't seen Spring rains like this in over four years and it is really greening up the pastures. We are particularly happy with the moisture this year because we seeded in over one hundred acres of new pasture last November counting on spring rains to germinate the seeds. So far the new grass looks pretty good. We have used our no-till drill to plant grass and legume seed mixtures into another sixty acres of existing pastures and hay fields this month and the moisture is helping this project.
The ewes bred to lamb in March finished up on schedule and we shouldn't have seen any new lambs in April with the main flock beginning to lamb in May. However, last fall a little ram lamb escaped our attention and clearly was quite active. Consequently lambs were showing up through April and we are having a long lambing season this year.
We sheared in early April this year with a crew of three shearers, a packer, and about a half dozen neighbors helping move the sheep and sort the wool. The crew started at 8:00 AM and were finished up shortly after 3:00 PM with about 260 sheep sheared.
|These sheep are being moved into the shearing shed from another barn where they were kept over night.|
|The sheep move down a chute on the right of the shed to the shearing floor.|
|These newly sheared sheep are wondering where their coats went. We give theme access to shelter for the first few nights after shearing and many of them use it but overall, they seem relieved to shed the heavy and hot wool. These black sheep are the same ones that look brown before shearing. The sun bleaches out the tips of the wool and makes the black wool look brown.|
|We have wanted to have photos of our products on real people for some time. Recently we traded Rob Wilke, a professional photographer in Bozeman, half a motorcycle for images of some of our sweaters worn by models. This is the button vest. Check out the sweaters page for more images.|
March has been typical this year with warm weather, snow, rain, sleet, wind, cold, and all the combinations of the above one can imagine. It has been a busy month with over 70 ewes lambing and the last of the cows calving. We had hoped for mild weather for lambing and toward the end of the month it was mild but in early March lambs were born at below zero temperatures and we had to be careful. We like to have the ewes sheared before they lamb for several reasons, one of which is that they will tend to come into the shed during cold nights and lambs are more likely to be born on warm straw under cover and not out in the snow. This year we were unable to get the early ewes sheared so we did have more lambs born out at night than we like.
This month Thirteen Mile lamb legs and ground lamb burger were selected by David Rosengarten in "The Rosengarten Report" (www.davidrosengarten.com) as the best lamb legs and ground lamb in the United States. David, the former food editor of Gourmet Magazine and now an independent food writer in New York, collected samples of lamb from all over the country in December to test cook and taste in preparation for the March report. We provided samples of our bone-in legs and lamb burger and we were pleased to see how well these products were rated. The March Report, issue number 17, which focuses on lamb has many interesting recipes that we will try later this year. David was also interviewed on the NPR program "The Splendid Table" (www.splendidtable.org) where he also talked about Thirteen Mile lamb. We have been raising and marketing lamb since 1987 and the increased interest in lamb we have seen over the last few years in remarkable. Americans are discovering what most of the rest of the world has long known; lamb is really good food.
|This eagle has been in the Cottonwood tree directly in front of the house on many recent mornings. Several years ago we lost several lambs to eagles but lately the eagles seem content to sit and watch the lambs, calves, and and the activity around the house and other buildings. The gophers (Richardson Ground Squirrels) are out in force and these keep the eagles well fed.|
|The Sand Hill Cranes came back this year on March 12, a few days later than usual. They were greeted by a foot of spring snow but they seem to cope well with March weather and pick down through the snow to find seeds to eat. This pair has been in the pasture directly behind our house on many recent days picking over the remains of hay fed earlier in the winter to lambs and calves.|
|These two are two thirds of a set of triplets and their mother doesn't have enough milk for them so they are bottle-fed bum lambs. They are pretty small and the barn is pretty cold so on this morning they are both wearing wool sweaters. These two will move to Great Falls in a couple of weeks to be raised by the young daughter of friends.|
|This pair of twins is enjoying a warm sunny but sleepy afternoon. By the end of the month we have about 125 lambs from about 70 ewes.|
|This mother is very wary. She is not sure she wants her picture taken with her twins.|
Winter arrived in February this year about three months late, but it came in hard. By the end of the month our local ski area had recorded over 100 inches of snow, an all time monthly record, and on February 23, the airport recorded 35 degrees below zero, a record low for that date. Of course the one cow, Erica, we were most worried about had her calf at 10:30 pm on February 23 when the temperature at our corral was 28 degrees below zero. Erica delivered a large 115 pound calf, her first, last year with considerable assistance from us and our vet and the calf died about 15 minutes after birth so we were worried this year. We got the calf into the barn immediately and dried off as thoroughly as we could but the barn is unheated and the calf was pretty cold in the morning. However, she is now five days old and seems to be doing fine. Erica is proving to be a conscientious mother so we are all happy about that. It has been well below zero for most of the past week and each night we bring all the cows and calves into a corral next to the barn where we place lots of straw on the ground. It is pretty crowded but the cows each find a place to lie down and their calves snuggle in next to them and get through the night in good shape. In a week or so we will begin lambing with about 75 ewes bred to lamb in March. We hope the temperatures moderate a bit.
|Jane is a proud mother with the first calf of the year born in the afternoon, February 8. Her calf, a heifer, weighed about 85 lbs. and is about three hours old here.|
|These calves are just waking up after a night at 25 degrees below zero and they're enjoying the morning sun. Jane is frequently the designated baby sitter. Here she is watching over her own calf and Tiny's calf while Tiny has some time off.|
|As the sun gets higher in the sky and the days get longer, Tiaga and Peterson soak up the evening sunlight in the barn door.|
|Becky has made a few custom hats this month for some folks in Maine. These hats are made with shearling lamb skin.|
January finally brought some precipitation but not really winter. On the fifteenth of the month a storm rolled in and began as rain which is rare here in January, but soon changed to a heavy wet snow. By the time it was over, we had over a foot on the ground. However, a few days later the temperature was back up in the 40s, the snow melted, and it looked like spring. By the end of the month the airport weather station about 10 miles west of us had recorded 1.4 inches of precipitation, mostly rain, for the wettest January on record. This is wonderful for us. The drought is by no means broken but this is a start in the right direction.
At this time of year not too much is happening with the sheep or cattle. The ewes should be all bred by now and the rams, although they are still with the ewes, know that their work is over for another year. The cows are getting very close to calving and are very wide. They move slowly and cautiously, especially when on snow and ice. The six calves left from last year hang out together like a bunch of adolescents on a city street corner looking for some kind of trouble to get into. We still have about 65 of last years lambs and they fly around the pasture leaping, running and butting and reminding us how much animals enjoy play.
Becky attended the Ecological Farming Conference, EcoFarm 2003, at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in California in the middle of the month where she presented two talks. One talk discussed farm and ranch practices that conserve biodiversity and provide watersheds and habitat for people, livestock, and native species and at the same time yield profits. Her second talk was on raising livestock for the production of high quality fibers for handspinning or mail order business. Becky is on the steering Committee of the Wild Farm Alliance which met in California at the EcoFarm conference.
|It was wonderful to see some snow and have some moisture on the ground although this all melted a couple of days later.|
|Two days after the snow storm it cleared and warmed up. These cottonwoods are where our resident eagles spend much of the winter. They are just to right and below the center of the picture.|
|The eagles always sit on the same limb day after day, sometimes facing east and sometimes west. They have a good view.|
December has come and gone and it looks like this may be the year of no winter. After some cold weather in early November and a bit again after Thanksgiving most of December has produced record high temperatures and almost no precipitation. There is less snow in the mountains behind our farm now then there was in early November. Apparently we are experiencing a classic El Nino weather pattern with the jet stream up over the Arctic Ocean about 1000 miles north of where it usually is at this time of year. The snow pack in the mountains is a small fraction of normal and it begins to look like we are entering an unprecedented fifth year of drought.
Our sheep are distributed among five pastures this month with different rams in each pasture. The ewes bred now will lamb on spring grass in May and June. We bred a group of the ewes earlier to lamb in March. We also have about 100 of last years lambs still on the farm sharing a pasture with a group of calves. We have moved the cows into a pasture close to the barn and corrals in anticipation of calving in February. Although we have little or no snow, we still feed hay every day as we have no grass left in the pastures to graze. Normally these pastures would be covered with snow by now.
Thirteen Mile Lamb and Wool Company was honored this year when Sustainable Northwest (www.sustainablenorthwes.org) selected us as a Founder of a New Northwest for 2002. This program identifies, recognizes, and links individuals and organizations in the region that have found ways to reconcile economic vitality and environmental health and social equity. This year 24 individuals, businesses, and community groups from the northwest have been recognized. Our company and farm will be profiled in a book published next Spring. The award was based on our efforts to operate an organic farm, care for the land we farm, and coexist with native species including predators.
2002 was our best business year yet with sales up 30% over last year. Customers have responded enthusiastically to our young beef and lamb sales are strong. With repeated news stories about contaminated meat and unsafe food, we find people wanting to know more about how their food is produced. We have been very busy over the holiday season shipping wool sweaters, hats, blankets, and other wool items all over the country. We thank all of you who have purchased products from us this last year.
|131 was a bum lamb and was bottle-fed and raised by Mimi, our 4 year old neighbor. Mimi named her Little Black. She is pretty tame and is the first one in line for lunch each day. Little Black should deliver her own lambs in May or June. The crop of replacement ewes we kept this year, all sired by Springfield, are particularly vigorous and energetic. They have been in a pasture close to the house for a month and have provided us with lots of entertainment as they race about and look in our windows.|
|Blue in the middle here and two of her daughters are enjoying Christmas Eve dinner. Blue is the matriarch of the herd and is still growing strong at 15 years of age. Betty on the left is Blue's first calf and is 13 years old and Erica on the right, also one of Blue's calves, is 2 years old and the youngest cow we have. All of these cows will calve in February and are getting pretty big.|
|Sam looking over his flock at sunset a few days before Christmas..|
|THIRTEEN MILE LAMB & WOOL COMPANY
13000 Springhill Road
Belgrade, Montana 59714
Tel. (406) 581-8543