Sarah Jane Humke

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

Simon the Siamese was born on our farm but we aren’t sure to whom and we sure as hell don’t know who his daddy is.  We don’t have any Siamese cats on the farm nor have we seen any lately that look the way he does.  However, Simon doesn’t let his unknown parentage stop him from being the most social of cats on the farm.

Simon actually has a job on the farm (other than being friendly and loving to everyone).  He will actually go into the hen’s coop at night and hunt the mice and rats that tend to be drawn to the chicken feed.  I don’t know how good he is at it but at least he tries.  He and the hens and roosters get along just fine, mostly ignoring one another but occasional he will try to give one of them a cat rub-by.

Herbert, my other extremely social creature on the farm, really loves Simon and I think that the feeling is reciprocated.

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You can’t tell from this but Simon is giving Herbert a back rub.  And Herbert is letting him.

This morning, Simon made a new friend, Rita.

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It was a total love fest.

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Last night Dad and I took Herbert, Remington, and Garth to The National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa.  They are going to be breed representatives for the Shetland breed.  I hope they behave….

All the way there, Herbert was jumping up on the window ledge of the back windows of the van to look out (seriously guys, he loves to travel!).  We got there at the allotted time and after getting all the paperwork out of the way, we went to unload the boys from the back of the van.  And the back of the van was locked.  Herbert, in all of his jumping up and down, had managed to manually lock the back doors.  Which of course we couldn’t get the key to unlock.  Now normally this wouldn’t be a big deal.  It’s a big, older cargo van, so just walk to the back and unlock them right?  However, Dad had gotten a really great idea and set-up a barrier with plywood and ratchet straps to keep the guys from getting all over the interior of the van.  Which I now needed to get over in order to unlock the door.  So as I try to maneuver myself over this unsteady, sharp, and splintery obstacle, I found myself (not for the first time since getting sheep) wishing that I did yoga.  I managed to scale the Great Wall of GMC without getting splinters in any… delicate… areas.

I am then faced with the sight of Remington’s halter being awkwardly worn on Herbert’s chest.  Somehow Remington had gotten his halter off his face and Herbert decided to try it on!  Wrangling a halter off of the wrong part of the wrong animal and onto the correct part of the correct animal took a few more moments of van bounciness with Dad looking through the dusty back window more and more perplexed.  Finally I get the back door unlocked and everyone unloaded and into their pen a few feet away from the back of the van.

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After we got the boys settled into their digs for the next few days Herbert was, of course, trying to chat-up all the ladies while the other boys were simply trying to avoid everyone.  I got the signage out of the truck for them and then filled-out some paperwork.  As we were getting ready to leave, Herbert gave me a worried bah.  In the past when we have gone to events, I have usually been around.  This is the first event that I am not taking part in anything other than the Hall of Breeds.  I went back and gave him a little pep talk and gave scratches to the two boys who like them.

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Folks have asked why I tend to take this group to events.  Well first, Herbert is Mr Social and LOVES being where all the people are.  I try to make sure to put a sign up with his name on it so that people will talk with him and interact as he knows his name and really loves being scratched and petted.  Remington is mostly tame like Herbert, but he sometimes still gets shy.  But this usually doesn’t last too long and he will be talking to folks in no time.  Garth isn’t a very social creature, but he sure it pretty!  And the three of them together make an excellent tableaux of colors of Shetland sheep.  I figure that if an animal is not standoffish or frightened, they make better representatives of the breed.  The reason that I did not include Alanis in this group is that she is so much smaller than the boys and they just push her out of the food.  Also, because she is so little and friendly, I am worried that someone might try to just walk off with her at an event that I don’t know the folks at.  I think that if someone other than me tried to walk off with one of my sheep at the Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival, it would suddenly get louder than when my flock of chickens has spotted a predator.

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If you are going to The National Cattle Congress, please stop by and say hi to Herbert and the guys.  I know how much they love to meet new people!

I had a fabulous and very busy weekend this past weekend.  First, I went to a Neko Case concert at the Hoyt Sherman Place auditorium.  It was an amazing concert which I have no photos from as the artist had really strongly expressed her desire for the event to not be photographed or filmed and for us to experience it in real time.  Just a tip, if they say “no photos” don’t be a dick and start taking photos, even if they are “just to put on facebook”.  Anyway, it was an amazing concert in an amazing venue and I was really happy to get to go to a concert even if it meant that I got to bed at around one in the morning *ahem*.

I then got up at a quarter to five the next morning and did an extra big set of chores as my friend Corinne was arriving at half past and we were heading up to Jefferson, Wisconsin for the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival.  It’s a great festival that I have had the pleasure of going to three or four times now and I always enjoy it.  Anyway, we got on the road bright and early and headed up there.  We got there a little after ten and immediately went to the vendors markets (as one does).   We then did (almost) the whole festival experience hitting the silent auctions for both the festival and the Shetland breeders, checked-out the fleece judging (and said hi to Deb Robson for just a moment), watched a bit of the Shetland breeders show, ate some festival food, chatted with friends both new and old, and generally had a great day.  For the first time ever, I actually won something in the silent auction for the festival.  I forgot to take a photo of it, but it was a gift basket type of thing from Sheep! magazine with three t-shirts, a few copies of the most current issue, a customized gear tote, and a year’s subscription to Sheep! magazine.  Corinne won a number of lovely things as well (I think she’s a bit more cutthroat in her silent auction bidding than I am…).

During all of this, the two of us decided to bid on a few ewes that were in the silent auction for the Midwest Shetland Sheep Breeders Association.  Corinne bid on a lovely ewe/ewe lamb pair from OK Acres and I bid on an adorable single ewe lamb from Ramble N Farms.  We didn’t do this spur-of-the-moment.  Corinne called her husband to make sure that it would work and I, well, what’s one more sheep?  We both won the sheep we were bidding on as well as several other lovely prizes.

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Since we were staying at an AirBNB, we left the sheep in the stall that night.  Over dinner, we did a little research and found that there was a Theisen’s in Jefferson, which made our endeavor significantly easier.  The next morning, Corinne picked up a halter for the adult ewe while I picked up a mid-duty tarp for the back of the car.  We then headed back to the fairgrounds for day two of festival excitement.  We listened in at the panel discussion that Deb and Lettie Kline took part in.  We did a little more shopping, and watched the sheep to shawl contest for a bit.  After lunch, we started prepping to head home.  The back of the Fit was flattened and all purchases and bags were moved directly behind our seats and secured so that they wouldn’t move if bumped on by the sheep.  We fastened-down the tarp and generally made the car as splash-proof as possible.  When we went through the exhibitor gate, we had expected that they would question us a little bit as we didn’t have a trailer or, you know, a truck.  However, the lady at the gate barely glanced-up when we stopped to tell her that we were picking-up sheep.

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I could have easily backed the Fit down the alley of the sheep barn to where the sheep were located had a young girl not been giving me the total side-eye.  So I backed in a little ways and we had to figure-out how to load three sheep with only two women.  Getting them into the back of the car was sort-of an all-or-nothing kind of thing where all three ladies were loaded and then the hatchback firmly closed.  I grabbed a gentleman that I knew and asked if he could carry a lamb for us as he was clearing out his farm’s Shetlands, and thus we very quickly moved all three animals pretty quickly and easily.  As we were leaving, we stopped at the gate and told the lady that we weren’t kidding about picking-up sheep and this time she stopped and looked.

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As we headed East, we did stop a few times on the way.  First was Paoli, a small town outside of Verona that has a ton of shops and art galleries.  The next was the Duluth Trading Outlet just down the road in Belleville.  Both Corinne and I like their clothes and being that close to the outlet, well, we had to stop.  The last stop was Culvers in Mt Horeb where interestingly our sheep weren’t the only ones in the parking lot!

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At all stops we parked in the shade and had windows and sunroof open.  It was around seventy out with a nice breeze, so the ladies were really comfortable in the car.

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After supper, we hit the road in earnest and we arrived back at my house around nine pm.  We quickly unloaded my sheep and then transferred the pair (along with the tarp) to Corinne’s vehicle.  Really, the entire trip home was as smooth and easy as I had expected (and no my car wasn’t trashed).

So, some relationships just don’t work out.  Both parties can be trying to be what the other needs in a relationship but if it isn’t there, it just isn’t there.  That was what happened with Mikey and I.  Mikey needed a stronger personality and will than I have (those who know me just went “whoa!” because apparently I am *ahem* rather strong-willed).  I needed a partner and he needed a boss.  We worked on it, we really did.  But I couldn’t trust him off lead with either the sheep nor the chickens.  He was great on lead, but I needed help beyond what he could do reliably for me.  This is not really his fault nor mine.  It just wasn’t a good fit for the situation that I am in.  So, this weekend the breeder suggested that I try a different dog.

Meet Rita.

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Rita is also a smooth coated collie.  She’s a few months older than Mike and has had a litter of puppies.  She’s also had a bit more training than he has.  But most importantly, she gets it.  She usually gets what I want her to do and is obviously trying to get it when she doesn’t.  We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s progressing really, really quickly already.  I’ve only had her at the farm since Thursday, but she’s already become part of the farm routine in a way that Mikey never was.  Since coming to the farm, she hasn’t been on a leash once.  She helps with morning and evening chores, even if it’s just keeping an eye on me.  Rita will mosey off to see what’s new, but literally checks-in with me every few minutes to see if I need her.

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Quite possibly the biggest difference between Rita and Mikey, other than levels of calmness and obedience, is that Rita is way more gentle with the sheep than Mikey was.  She had to correct Alanis the other night and Alanis was more offended by not getting to be next to me than by anything else.  I have seen Rita trying to move lambs by carefully attempting to pick them up by the scruff of their necks (I stopped this as soon as I realized exactly what she was doing, but I have to admit that it was kinda adorable).

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Rita is also okay with kids.  My oldest niece came out to the farm over the weekend and Rita was perfectly polite to her.  She came to her when Maeve said her name, gave Maeve a quick boop with the nose when she realized that she wasn’t needed, and then right back to sniffing the farmyard smells.  There were no growls and no standoffish behavior at all.

Now to answer a few questions before they are asked.  First, nothing bad is going to happen to Mikey.  He has gone back to the breeder (where he has gone back and forth all summer) and he will be worked with more until someone comes along who is right for him.  This is all about finding the right dog for the right person, not saying that Mikey is a “bad dog”.  The reason that I didn’t start with Rita in the first place is that she had just had puppies when I first went out to Wayne’s, so she was obviously off the market.  But now her little miscreants are all weaned and half-grown and really don’t need her anymore.  Wayne saw that I was becoming increasingly frustrated with Mikey and he had had a chance to work with Rita again and found that she might be more my speed.  Thus, the switch.    It’s also unlikely that Mikey is going to suffer any ill effects of having been switched out.  These dogs often get worked with at different places by different people over time.  Mikey and I never really bonded (don’t get me wrong, we liked each other, but we never bonded) so it’s not like he’s heartbroken about this.

I’m very optimistic about Rita as she has been fitting into the family really quite well and we’re already able to do things together that Mikey and I never were able to.  Just last night we moved the entire flock from where they were grazing back into their pen with no magic bucket of feed!  Yay!  It wasn’t perfect but it sure beat the hell out of running ahead of the flock trying not to get trampled to death by a horde of tiny hooves.

Since my mother’s death at the end of February, I’ve had a hard time knitting.  Most of my knitting projects require a certain amount of attention paid to them, and I guess that I haven’t had that to give.  I also haven’t been able to read an entire book for similar reasons.  It’s been a strange limbo for me to be in as both knitting and reading have long been part of my daily routine.

I’ve been searching for the project that could break through this undefinable barrier that I have.  Socks, even the simplest and most vanilla, are too fiddly or just not all that appealing.  Lace can only be worked on only for the very shortest of periods before I become frustrated and stuff it away into its project bag.  Even my crochet scrapghans weren’t working for me.

I often go to a thrift store that is close to where I work.  It’s run by volunteers from a group of churches in the area.  Families will frequently donate whatever is left over from an estate to the store.  Auctions and estate sales in this area often don’t net enough to warrant the amount of work involved, so at least the loved-ones items are helping a local charity.  This means that often a shopper can find literally find everything that they could need to start a home, from a coffee maker to blankets and quilts, and everything in between.  Even unfinished knitting and crochet projects.

I’ve found almost finished baby blankets made out of vintage Caron Dazzleaire (which I gave to a friend who also crochets as she knows a lot more people having babies these days than I do).  IMG_6470

I’ve found partially knitted sweaters with the needles still in them but with no pattern.  I find lots and lots of leftover yarns, which go into my massive scrapghans eventually.  But one thing that I have found over and over is granny squares.  At this store, they are usually sold by the gallon ziploc bagful and usually are only a quarter.  Just a quarter for anywhere from twenty to forty granny squares.  I have always purchased them when I have found them.  Sometimes they are relatively fresh, having been made only in the past year or so, the colors or types of yarn giving them away as being recently made.  While other sets of squares have clearly been stored for some time, the yarns of the acrylic squares having long been flattened into a uniformity not usually found in newer versions.

It is to these forlorn remnants of another’s life that I have suddenly been drawn.  I have found myself trying to get the fifty or so of them that I have to a uniform size.  I have been having fun with colors as I need something to work on that is cheerful and easy.  Adding rows of clusters of double crochet to existing squares seems to be exactly what I needed.  I hope that the women (they are always women in my head) who made these squares originally would be ok with what I am doing.  I think that most of them would just be glad that someone is putting the squares towards what they started and were unable to finish and that they were bringing happiness to someone, even if it isn’t the original intended recipient.

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Lately it has felt as though The Flight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was written as my personal soundtrack.  Summer is always hectic for me and this summer has been absolutely slammed so far.  I have had a lovely little trip this month to Idaho for a wedding.  Here are some photos:

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I finally learned how to take panoramic shots.

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Yes I am wearing a fascinator.  I bought it in England when I lived there.  I have long thought that this was one of the more charming traditions that the British keep alive so I wore it to the wedding.  Also, you don’t have to do as much to your hair this way….

Part of the reason that I am so busy is that I am having to move the sheep far more often than I am used to since there are so many more little mouths to feed.  I also cannot get away with smaller enclosures anymore for the same reason, so it means that I am taking-down and setting-up way more square feet of electro-netting than I ever have been.  We’ve also been abnormally hot here in Iowa for most of the spring and summer, so it’s been miserable to do all this fence moving. 

I have also been spending a lot of time training Mikey.  I was correct that in the short-term getting a working dog was going to make my life a lot more difficult as all of my spare time is now taken-up with working with him.  If I am not moving sheep after work I am working with him at the breeders farm.  I sometimes get how soccer moms feel as I am constantly driving either to or from practice these days.

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He came home for the weekend last weekend to see how things went.  He seemed to like his kennel, he liked hanging-out and seeing all that was going on on the farm.  He was scared of the cats, which was pretty hilarious as they were frightened of him too.  There was a lot of mutual flattening of bodies to the ground and giving wide berth to each other.   He liked the other dogs and wanted to play with them.  Malcolm gave him a little of his time but the two little ones weren’t interested in playing with him at this point.  He was also afraid of my nieces but I had been careful to have him on a short leash when I brought him over so we quickly separated them.  No-one, neither dog nor child, was hurt.  He hasn’t ever been around small children or cats before, so these were all new experiences for him and I am sure that he will get used to them with time.

I decided to give him a little job to do of rounding up the lambs that were out.  He was doing pretty well at it until Alanis spotted me.  She came running towards me and Mikey got in front of her like he was supposed to.  Well, Miss Alanis was very annoyed that this animal was blocking her way.  She kept bah-ing at me in a very indignant manner, not backing down from Mikey at all.  Imagine, a fifteen pound lamb staring down a forty-five pound collie giving her the patented collie stare.  All I could think of was the photos of protesters putting flowers in the muzzles of riot police guns.  After a few seconds of this, getting impatient, Alanis starts to stomp her little foot in her most intimidating manner.   Mikey looks back at me like, “Dude, what do I do now?  This was not covered in the book!”  Alanis takes this chance to deftly dart around Mike and wedges herself between my legs from behind, now facing Mike’s back end.  Mike is now completely flabbergasted and doesn’t really know what the heck to do so once I get done laughing I instruct him to continue with the other lambs and that I have this one and I pick Alanis up to make my point.  He composed himself and then cornered the remaining lambs for me, but he kept giving Alanis dirty looks.  The two of them will have to come to an understanding eventually, but not right now when he’s still being trained and she’s so little as it would be easy for him to injure her by accident.

One job that is now off my to-do list is bottle-feeding Alanis.  She had her last ba-ba (bottle) on Monday.  I weaned her gradually, first going from twice a day to only in the mornings.  Then I gradually decreased the amount that she was getting.  She still wants her ba-ba and comes running to me, but now she just gets chin scratches and a little love.  She’s doing fine, but will often complain to me about her lack of ba-ba by grumbling at me, often with a full mouth.

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Alanis’ last ba-ba.

I took two wether lambs to their new home last weekend.  One of them was Izzy, the lamb that was silent auctioned off at the Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival.  The other one wasn’t yet named, so their new owner gets the honor of that.  She didn’t have any other sheep so decided to buy another little guy to go with Izzy.  I think that they will do well in their new home.  They have plenty of space…

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It is also hay season.  This year I have purchased about two hundred small squares in addition to a greater amount of large square bales.  I need to divide the pen this autumn as the lambs and yearlings are getting pushed out of the food too often.  As a result, they were thinner than I would have liked them to be after their first winter.  Hence the small bales.  I’m not sure that I am going to be able to get to the area of the pen where they are being kept with the all-terrain fork-lift so I need to be able to carry the bales to them.  Anyway, these bales are being kept in the grainery as it’s got a good roof on it and it’s only got a human doorway so it can’t be used for the larger bales anyway.  I have used it in the past to keep the sheep in there after shearing, so there was some bedding and dried-up manure on the floor that needed to be scooped out.  I had planned on doing that Sunday afternoon after I got done with work, but then I got word that I needed to have the trailer unloaded that night too.  So, I scooped out the grainery enough that I could get several pallets down to put the hay on.

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Just so that you are able to get a good idea of how big that pile is, it was about as tall as I am.

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Then I unloaded over one hundred bales of hay into the grainery by myself.  Between working a nine hour day, plus scooping, plus unloading, I was exhausted.  Honestly, I felt like I should have leveled-up or received a badge or something when I got done with that.  I still need to stack some of the bales, but that will have to wait until I have some help as the stacked bales were already well above my head and I would have had to have used a ladder to get them up there.  And I had no where anywhere close to that kind of energy remaining.  Or daylight for that matter.

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There is another trailer of equal bale number awaiting unloading still.  I need to get the unstacked bales stacked and the rest of the grainery cleaned-out before I can begin tackling that mass.

The large bales are faster to move.  They have to be loaded and unloaded by machine as each weigh somewhere in the ballpark of eight-hundred pounds.  We have several pieces of equipment that can carry them, so it’s not usually a big deal.  They can also be broken-up and carried by hand, but I end-up with a LOT of hay in my bra somehow that way.

I keep hoping that one of these days, things are going to slow down just a little so that I can enjoy summer a bit.  Maybe go swimming with my nieces or even try kayaking!  However, I think that I must be the only person in the Northern Hemisphere that is honestly happy that the days are getting shorter and that Autumn is just a couple of months away.

Today was a most excellent mail day.  Our mail carrier will back in whenever he has a package for one of us.  You know that it’s going to be good when he actually gets out of the truck.  Getting out of the truck means either multiple packages or a really big one.  Today it was two packages.  Both were eBay purchases that I was expecting, though not on the same day necessarily.    I had been casting about looking for a case for my new lovely supported spindle from Maine Fiber Tools without spending a fortune.  I looked all over Waterloo and Cedar Falls last weekend for something that would work and I wasn’t able to find anything.  So I hit eBay up and that is where I found this:

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If you are saying, “why that looks like a tequila bottle-shaped guitar case!” you would be correct.  I was looking for the cardboard tubes that scotches are often sold in and somehow this came up in my feed.  It fits my spindle and bowl perfectly.

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I’m actually really excited to start hauling this out whenever I am going to be spindling just to see the confused faces of the people around me!

I also got a bunch of these in the mail today.  Not as fun but very, very useful.

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But there wasn’t just things that I had ordered in the mail for me!  There was also this fun cardboard envelope from Finland:

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Inside was this:

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A letter on the back of a fun postcard and two Sarah sheep stickers for my phone (she made two to make sure that the size was correct).

Mondays are always better when you get good mail to start them off!