Sarah Jane Humke

The life of a traveling, reading, writing, spining and knitting shepherdess.

2017 Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival April 18, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sarah Jane Humke @ 9:26 am

I have been volunteering to help with the 2017 Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival quite a lot this year.  I’m really excited to be working on the line-up of classes.  We have a bunch of new ideas that we are implementing this year.  Our Shepherding 101 classes are designed for the beginning shepherd (or anyone who just wants to go over the basics!) and feature things like fecal test counts, FAMACHA scoring, and marketing fleeces.  We have an entire Children’s Corner with classes of fibery fun just for kids.  There is a whole series of in-depth producer education on Saturday.  And of course, we have a wide selection of fiber artistry classes for all skill levels!

I am also going to be taking a few of my Shetland flock to represent in the Hall of Breeds.  We’re really excited about how many breeds are going to be represented this year.  I haven’t decided which of the monsters I am going to be taking, but I’m sure that Herbert will be in the mix!

In a twist, I am going to be one of the instructors at the IS&WF this year.  I’m going to be teaching an introductory lace course.  I’m really looking forward to getting a new crop of lace knitters excited about my favorite form of knitting!  I’m planning on doing a brief “tour” of lace knitting around the world for inspiration.




Getting to Know You (all over again) July 2, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sarah Jane Humke @ 8:00 pm
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Right now I am having to get to relearn my entire flock.  After shearing, all the animals look completely different.  Like, I can’t tell who they are without reading their eartags.  A few I can tell, of course.  The boys; Herbert, Greyson, and Buddy all have horns and (now) all have bells.  When we change to fresh grass, it sounds like a demented windchime being tossed in a storm.

getting 1

Buddy giving me the, “Are you really going to photograph me in the nude?!” look

getting 6

Herbert is back in jail for too many escape attempts.

But the ladies are more difficult, as many of them look very similar to one another without their big coats of wool.  One way I can tell is, ironically, by their lambs.

getting 4

Others I just have to try to read their name tags.  I really wish I had taken a photo of each sheep just prior to shearing so that you could see the shocking difference in coloring that is under those big balls of wool.

getting 5

getting 2

This is Jolly.  I can tell by the coloration on her face and belly. Before shearing she was a reddish color, now she appears to be brown with a white belly.

Even the lambs are in on this color changing thing.  About half of them are starting to clearly change colors from those they were born with.  The ones born the same colors as their mama’s seem to be keeping those colors, especially the black lambs born to black ewes.  This lamb isn’t a particularly good example of this, but does show another new thing in the flock.  The lambs are now all eating grass and looking adorable as they chew their cud!

getting 3


New Additions to the Library

I recently added three new books to my fiber library that I am so excited about I just had to share.

First is the book Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions by Donna Druchunas and June L. Hall.  First off, can I get a WOW just for the book itself.  Beautifully bound, well photographed and high-quality printing makes this book stand out amongst knitting books in general.  Now I’m a sucker for a knitting book that isn’t all just patterns.  I find that often the stories shared in them are just as inspiring as the patterns.  As far as I am concerned, Lithuanian Knitting sets the standard for the “Not just a knitting pattern book”  genre.  The writing is excellent as well as the selected patterns.  I cannot suggest this book strongly enough if you are interested in the history and the continuing relevance of knitting in a country known for its knitting traditions.  Get it, you won’t be disappointed.

Books 2

The second book is Icelandic Handknits by Hélène Magnússon.  This is another beautifully presented book with excellent photography and lovely printing and binding.  There isn’t as much introduction to this book, but I love the little stories within the patterns spread throughout the book.  Reading this one has made me even more excited about my very short time in Iceland in the autumn.

Books 1

The final book that I have added to my library is The Book of Haps edited by Kate Davies and Jen Arnall-Culliford.  I’m rather a big fan of most things Shetlandic, so when I saw that this book was coming out, I decided I really must get it.  It starts with a brief history of shawls and haps and how the terminology changed throughout the years.  It then moves on to patterns for various types of haps inspired by the various locations of the pattern writers.  Every single pattern is beautiful in its own way.  Some weave WAY off the path of what you would consider a “hap”, but all the patterns are completely wearable and totally lovely.

books 4


The Storm June 26, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sarah Jane Humke @ 7:44 pm

Today was shearing day.  It was probably six weeks overdue, but I never planned on the shearing handset to crap out on me while shearing the first sheep.  So I had to scramble to find a shearer and then find a time that worked for both of us to do it, and well, you know how it goes I am sure…

Today was almost entirely over by 1pm.  The shearer was lovely and fast.  He had about as much in travel time as he did in shearing time here.  I did manage to shoot some photos of him sharing the sheep.

the storm 5

The storm 6

the storm 7

the storm 8

the storm 9

the storm 10

My brother and sister-in-law came out with my young niece (I can’t say little as she’s only a few months over a year old and weighs over thirty pounds already.  She’s a BIG little girl!  She enjoyed the lambs and the shearing and as usual, Herbert was a favorite.  My sister-in-law gets credit for these photos.  Thanks Heather!

the storm 3

The storm 4

the storm 2

After the shearing was over, Kendra and I went to work vaccinating, deworming, and hoof trimming all the adults.  Then we corralled all the little ones (they could get out through the fencing) and vaccinated them as well as banded the little boys.  The banding was trickier than either of us expected it to be, but we muddled through ok.  The lambs were NOT happy about some of the violations to their bodies, one went so far as to throw a tantrum by going limp on the floor for a little while, but all seem to have gotten over it soon enough with a little liquid courage from mama’s teat.

When we were done with everyone, we herded them back to their current grassy enclosure.  You have not seen a happier group of sheep than that flock hightailing it back to grass.  I’ve checked on everyone once already as this was a stressful day for everyone, sheep and human alike.  They are all trying to figure out who’s who right now as sheep are very visual creatures and they have all gotten rather extreme haircuts.  I’m having to figure this out as well as many of them are a completely different color under all of older wool.  I think that the lambs are about the only ones at an advantage here as they tend to identify their mothers by smell.  Some of them went to the freshly shorn fleeces thinking that they were mama, rather than just mama’s wool.


The Calm Before the Storm  June 25, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sarah Jane Humke @ 7:40 pm

We are as ready as we can be for shearing day tomorrow. The sheep are under cover, the equipment has been readied, the shearer confirmed.
After shearing my friend Kendra and I are clipping hooves, vaccinating everyone, deworming the adults, and banding the ram lambs (aka: castrating them). It’s going to be a busy, busy day!

before 3

I will try to take some photos. No promises.


Lessons From the First Year (a little late…) June 19, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sarah Jane Humke @ 2:16 pm

I have had my little flock now for just over a year.  I learned a ton in this first year and I am beginning to realize just how much more I have to learn.

So here are some of my largest lessons learned.

1.)  If a sheep looks sick call the vet RIGHT NOW.  Do not wait to “keep an eye on it”.  Call the vet.  When a sheep actually looks sick, it is REALLY sick.  Like knocking on death’s door.  Call the vet, better to have a wasted trip than a dead animal.  Also, the vet may not be able to get to the farm lickty-split.  Best to get on the list right away.

2.)  Having livestock means having dead stock.  (See above).

3.)  Advice is great, but trust your gut.  This can apply to many areas of life, not just raising sheep.  A lot of people will try to “backseat shepherd” you.  Take the advise given, consider the source, and then do what’s best for you and your flock.  In my case, a lot of people who had meat sheep were giving me advise more suited to meat sheep than fleece sheep.  There are differences and you just have to be able to take the advice given, use what you can, and let go of the rest.  Some people will be upset that you don’t take their advise.  That’s their issue, not yours.

4.)  Don’t expect anything to go to plan.  Go ahead and make a plan.  But be prepared to throw that thing out the window when the rubber meets pavement.  Doing and planning are very different things, be prepared to roll with it.

5.)  Get out of their way.  If you follow me on Facebook, you know that lambing went really uneventful this year.  I didn’t have to intervene in any of the births, and this was 16 first-time lambing ewes!  I gave them space, checked-in on them a few times a day, and didn’t get in the way of the bonding process.  For my sheep, this was the best way to handle them.  Other flocks might need a lot more one-on-one activity.  I’m thankful that lambing capped off my first year as a shepherd.  If they had lambed right away, I would have been all up in their business!

6.)  Prepare for the worst.  Just because I didn’t have to assist in any births doesn’t mean that I wasn’t ready to.  Gloves, medicines, and equipment were all at the ready.  I also (try) to have all my animals tagged with their USDA tags for this reason as well.  The various natural disasters that can face a farm at a moment’s notice make me want to be able to load my animals on a trailer without a thought to if they are ready for this.  I also try to keep a little hay on hand for this reason as well.

7.)  Don’t read a lot of the sheep books.  They will scare the crap out of you.  There is one in particular that I read that I’m not going to name here that could have been titled, 1001 Ways That Your Ewe and Her New Born Lamb Can Die a Painful and Miserable Death. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this book caused a number of sleepless nights.  It’s good to have them on hand if you need them, but they really aren’t bedtime reading.

8.)  Have more than you need on hand.  Buy a few extra bales of hay if you can.  Spring might take longer this year or you might have to keep a few sheep separate because of issues and you need to feed them hay.  I buy the large square bales, so a few extra bales is a fair amount of hay.  But this applies to more than just hay, wormers, vaccinations, basically anything, get more than you think you will need.  Sheep like to spill things:-)

9.)  Cut yourself some slack.  I had to keep reminding myself that this was my first time doing all of this and no-one is good at something right off the bat.  It’s easy to beat yourself up when something goes wrong, but learn from it and move on.

10.)  Everybody needs to get used to the new status quo.  My little flock came from a HUGE flock, thus didn’t have a ton of experience up-close with humans.  In the beginning, just walking into the area they were at would cause them to scatter as far as they could get away from me.  However, as the year went on (and I found out that sheep like apples:-)) they became more accustomed to my presence in their midst.

11.)  The Premier Kiwi Crook is one of the best inventions on the planet.  It’s fantastic when you are chasing animals around in the dark.  Just trust me on this one.  Have sheep?  Get one.

12.)  One of the advantages of a small breed of sheep is that you can carry them if they just absolutely refuse to go where they are supposed to go.  Also you can put them in your car.  I’m a big fan of smaller sheep.

13.)  Don’t try to fight their nature.  They aren’t going to go a certain direction just because you want them to.  They are going to go the direction that their instinct tells them to go.  Learn which direction this is and don’t fight it.  You will never really win if you do.

14.)  Lambs are obnoxiously cute 24/7.  They can’t help it.  We have lawn chairs out where they are grazing just to watch the show.  Also, they grow wickedly fast!  Go watch them tonight as they will be full-grown all too soon.





Mr Luca Goes Home March 13, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sarah Jane Humke @ 5:21 pm

Last weekend Mr Luca went home to Wisconsin.  He traveled rather inelegantly in a dog crate in the back of my Honda Fit.  Yes, there are pictures.


This is a selfie I took. I promise I wasn’t driving when I took this:-)


Mr Luca took up almost all of the back of the car.  Though he looks crowded, he could turn around and his back and head weren’t touching the top of the crate.  About halfway there, he sat down and took a nap.


I think he was kind of confused by the whole situation, but he dealt with it pretty well.

He was greeted by lots of familiar faces when he got home.  Everyone seemed really excited to see him!


Mr Luca got his own room upon homecoming.  I think he was just happy to get out of the car.  Really, everyone was.

Hopefully we will see lots of little Mr Lucas running around here in a couple of months!