Sarah Jane Humke

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

So this past weekend I learned how to spin on a supported spindle.  For those of you that do not know, spindling is really the oldest organized way to spin fibers that there is.  There are spindle stones found in neolithic archeological sites and some of our oldest art depicts people using drop spindles.  Spindles are small and portable.  In the more recent past, shepherds would take spindles and wool from the sheep they were watching and spin it in the fields.  It was something that children learned young, and could do from a young age.  And I couldn’t do at all.

I had tried to drop spindle in the past.  I think that I may have tried to learn too close to learning how to spin on a  wheel  and I really just didn’t understand some of the basic mechanics and physics of it yet.  For years, whenever anyone would ask, I would joke that, “I put the ‘Drop’ in ‘Drop Spindle’!”  When I mentioned this to Robin from The Dancing Goats this weekend, he said to that he could have me spinning if I could just give him a few minutes.  So I gave him a few minutes.

And he did.


Please excuse the mess, I’m a grain inspector and it gets a bit messy by the end of the day.



I think that I am doing ok for as long as I have been spinning like this.  Obviously I still need some practice to get down to my usual laceweight thickness, but for only having learned it, I’m quite pleased.

For those that are going to ask, the wool is from Yarn Geek Fibers and is Polwarth roving that I had leftover from the thrummed mittens in the colorway “Yield to Me”.  The supported spindle and bowl are both from Robin at The Dancing Goats, similar to those sold here.


I haven’t written much about Homer here before for a couple of reasons.  For starters, I wasn’t completely sure that he was going to live for very long.  You see, Homer is the Jacob ram that came along with Marge and is Lisa’s father.  He had some….. issues.  Namely, one of his horns was growing back onto and almost into his head.  Basically I thought that he might be a little brain damaged.  This horn also almost entirely obscured vision in one eye and caused him difficulty eating.  Thus he is thinner than he really should be.  Add to that the horrible condition that their fleeces were in when they arrived on the farm and you start to get the full picture.

Now getting horns off of animals is seldom simple and often bloody.  Very, very, bloody.  Animals can die from blood loss from cutting off a horn if not done properly.  Other people with a lot more experience in these things were nervous about it.  The vet was a little nervous about it.  So I feel that I was rather justified in being fairly nervous about doing this.

Until we sheared Homer, I hadn’t gotten a close enough look at the horns to really see what was going on in that mess.  My worry was that the one horn (he has four) was actually growing into his skull, which would mean a whole other mess of issues.  However, when we sheared him, we were able to clearly see skin underneath the horn in all spots, so we knew that it hadn’t grown into the bone.  Another part of the reason that I did leave it for a bit was that I wanted to get that fleece off of him, as it is really stressful to carry two years worth of fleece (and burdock burrs) on your back, and I was worried that the stress of removing the horns would be enough.

The reason that I tell you all of this is so that you can get a clear view of why I chose to hold-off having these horns removed.  Horns don’t grow super fast, so it wasn’t like he was in any imminent danger and the worst damage had already happened in his previous homes.

So the vet came to the farm this morning around seven.  He set-up a table while I caught Homer.  Thankfully Homer has finally succumbed to the sirens call of the magic bucket so he wasn’t too difficult to capture (having handles on your head is helpful too!).  The vet carried him out to the field operating table and sedated him.  Dad came over to help hold Homer while Doc prepared the wire saw that he was going to use to cut the horns off.  Doc and I discussed where he should make the cuts and I chose a spot that looked like a naturally weaker spot that looked like it had been caused my a much earlier stress on his system.  As Doc whizzed the saw back and forth with years of practice behind the movement, we all waited for the blood to spurt out from the cut in the horn.

It never came.

Doc finished cutting the section off and looked at the remaining stump.  No blood, no blood vessels at all, just horn.  We had cut above the part of the horn that was still getting blood to it.  All three of us were pleasantly surprised.  We start on horn number two, once again waiting for the blood to come.  This is a bigger horn and a little further up it so we really expected a lot of blood with this one.  Doc saws and saws and finally the cut end falls off and we all look and there are three or four tiny dots of blood.  It had been cut exactly where the blood vessels end.  By the third horn we aren’t expecting much excitement and are thus rewarded with an utter lack of anything noteworthy.

We left the fourth horn alone since it didn’t seem to be bothering him nor would it anytime soon.

Homer took this all in stride.  Then again, he was still sedated.  I took his photo afterwards (I didn’t have time to do a before photo, sorry).


I hope that he’s a little more comfortable now.  Here’s a shot without dad’s hand in the way.


I took Homer down off the table and put him back in with the flock.  He seemed a bit out of it, but no worse for the wear.

These are the horn parts that we removed.  They are almost a pound of horn in total.  That’s a lot if you think about wearing it on your head all the time!

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I am hoping that poor Homer will be able to gain a little more weight now that he doesn’t have all that nasty horn growth in the way.

I don’t blame the folks that I got him from for this.  I think that this issue had been going on a long time before they got him.  I’m sure that Homer was sent to the sale barn thinking that he would become dinner and not for any other purpose, but alas, the world had other plans for him.  I’m glad that Miss Lisa was born a ewe because if she was a ram I would be worried that this would happen again.  However, since the ewes don’t grow nearly as extensive sets of horns, I’m not too worried about her.  However, I’m not sure that I will ever breed her knowing that these genetics are in her.  It’s a good thing that she’s cute!

Horns are lovely but they can cause all sorts of problems.  I try to keep an eye on everyone in my flock that have horns or scurs to make sure that they aren’t causing any issues.  Remington currently has a scur that has bent back towards his eye, but it’s loose and I think that it will naturally fall off before it causes any damage.  I check him about once a week just to make sure that there isn’t anything going on.  The rest of the gang has scurs or horns that are not problems, but I still visually check them pretty much every time I look at them (one advantage of them being on their heads).

For those wondering, scurs are what happen when you wether a male sheep. Since it isn’t getting all that lovely testosterone anymore, the horn growth slows or stops completely and what is left is a scur.  They have a tendency to break and be a really bloody mess, but typically don’t cause too many other issues.  Herbert has a nice example of scurs on a wether.




I like to shop in thrift stores and there’s a few things that I am always on the watch for.  One of these items is pretty much anything made from linen.  It doesn’t matter if it’s napkins and tablecloths or pants and shirts, if it’s linen, and a reasonable price, I snag it.

Part of the reason for this is simple.  Linen cloth is expensive to buy new.  Linen clothing isn’t cheap and it’s rare to find linen tableware or sheets or towels anymore unless you are internet shopping, and even there, not cheap.  Since linen takes a long time to wear out, it’s a more ecological and longer-lasting option to the ubiquitous cotton that everything seems to be made of.  It also has less chemical processing than cotton and is more comfortable to wear in hot weather due to it’s wicking nature compared to cotton and it’s tendency to absorb and retain moisture.

In years past, pure Irish linen was a prized gift for hostesses.  I have found card table sets, a small square linen tablecloth and four matching linen napkins, still in the original gift box, for a dollar.  I’ve found multiple sets of napkins for a quarter a napkin.  I still haven’t found a large tablecloth, but when I do I’m going to make a dress out of it!

So when I find linen clothing in my size, and sometimes even if it’s not (if it’s cheap enough, I get it and give it to friends, I’m pretty evangelical about linen at this point), I buy it.  I don’t really worry too much about color or style as a lot of things can be dealt with pretty easily.  Case in point.  A week ago I was in my local thrift store and found a linen capri pant and top set.  There were a couple of issues.  First was the color, a lovely Easter Egg shade of green that makes me look ill if I try to wear it.  The second was that the pants had a full polyester lining!  In linen!  Sort of defeats the point really, however because of the light color they were a little more translucent than the typical person may want to wear, which is probably why they lined them.  Here are the pants prior to the removal of the lining.


So I cut the lining out.  I didn’t do anything to fancy, just a sharp pair of scissors and removed it being careful to not cut any other fabric.  Here’s what the set looks like after that.


So I have never dyed an entire outfit before and I do a little research and find that good ol’ Rit dye is still a really popular (and available) choice for this.  So I order some on Amazon (no stores around here had any colors that I wanted) and it came this past week.  So this weekend, I followed the instructions and dyed this outfit dark blue.


The stitching is still green but most of it isn’t visible on the outside of the fabric.  I still haven’t decided what exactly to do with the sleeves.  The are three-quarter length and fit me rather badly.  I may take it to someone with seamstress skills and have it made into a sleeveless top instead.  If I do, I will show you the final results.  However, as it stands, I spent a dollar on the actual outfit and around three dollars on the dye.  For four dollars, I have a linen outfit that I can actually wear.

Those of you that haven’t been reading my blog for a long time may not know that I wasn’t always an Iowan shepherdess.  I actually have a degree in Horticulture from the University of Florida and used to be in charge of a greenhouse outside of Apopka, Florida.  I tell you all of this so that you can fully appreciate the utter depravity of what I am about to share with you.

This weekend I planted my “garden”.  I say “garden” as it’s really just eight tomato plants.  For me, this isn’t really a garden, but this year I just don’t have the time for a proper garden.  Well, I could have time for a proper garden, but I would have to quit my full-time job in order to take care of it sooooo……..  I mean, I have over seventy sheep at this point, a house to take care of, three dogs to feed and nurture, a passel of farm cats awaiting breakfast and dinner each night, not to mention the never ending laundry that comes with farming.  Something had to give, and since I’m not keen on getting rid of the dogs or forgoing hot meals, so a large and proper garden got the short straw.

Part of the reason that I was so late getting them into the ground is that I didn’t have a good place to put it.  We have a lot of shade around our house, a by-product of mature maple trees planted all around.  The areas not shaded are usually grazed-down by the sheep (What!?  They are literally nature’s lawnmowers!  If it’s good enough for the White House, it’s good enough for me!).  The area needed to get enough sun for the tomatoes, be someplace that wouldn’t be easy for the sheep to get to (or at least easy to fence around), and close enough to water.  I discarded a lot of locations for various reasons and was just sort of stuck as to where to put them.

My brother and I were born four years apart.  I came along in that sweet spot of time when a lot of aunts and friends of the family had decided that they weren’t going to have any more kids.  Thus, I had a lot of hand-me-down toys and clothes.  One of these was my swingset, which was one of those late sixties a-frame affairs that I could get the legs to lift off the ground if I swung high enough.  It is one of those things that makes you wonder how I ever survived childhood.  I mean, we had no car seats, no bicycle helmets, no sunscreen, and my crib is now probably considered a deathtrap!  Anyway, sometime between when I outgrew this little swinging guillotine and when my brother was of the age to want one, my parents upgraded to a bigger, better, more dangerous deathtrap of a swingset, now with monkey bars!  This one was concreted into the ground, so no more lift-offs, but it had it’s own set of dismembering features.  The metal edges at the top of the slide were notorious for slicing little hands on the way down and the slide itself would get blisteringly hot in the full sun.

Anyway, this set is still in the North yard of the house.  The swings long ago cracked and fell apart.  The trapeze bar blew off in some grand Iowa storm.  All that really remained is the slide and the monkey bars.  As I looked at it, I saw supports, really solid supports that are even concreted into the ground, for tomato plants.  Talked to dad about it and he thought it was a good idea too, thus was born the swingset garden.


The bread crates and random piece of metal were to protect the tender tomato seedlings from the really persistent wind that we had blowing all weekend and also to give them a break from the sun.  I found the trapeze bar and one of the swing rings down buried in the soil.  Later, dad put up some fencing to keep the sheep out when they come this direction again.

The rest of the garden is potted and is all herb plants.  I can move them out of reach of the sheep quite easily this way.


It’s not pretty, but I think it’s going to work pretty well.  However, I’m reasonably sure that somewhere there is a professor or dean at UF sighing, “We really should revoke her degree…”

As I mentioned in my previous post, Charlotte finally had her lamb, a little ewe.  She’s being a good mama to her and keeping her pretty protected so I was only able to get a few shots of her last night when she wasn’t basically a shadow behind a pillar or a bin.

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She’s a sweet little ewe that seems to be a tad overwhelmed by all her older and much larger half brothers and sisters.  She also has a lot of aunties who answer her when she bahs, so I think that she will do just fine.

Both Charlotte and I are, for very similar reasons, glad for her to have finally finished gestating.  She’s tired of being checked on and I am glad to no longer have to hunt her down and check on her.

Final stats for lambing 2018:

Thirty-one lambs out of twenty-one ewes

147.6% birthing rate

Of the lambs, sixteen were rams and fifteen were ewes

100% of ewes were bred

I love lambing season but I am really glad it’s over at the same time.  I worry about my girls, I worry about the lambs, I worry about all of it until it’s over.  This is now one less thing for me to worry about.  Now, to get them sorted, ready for Iowa Sheep & Wool Festival, the yearlings and wethers down to the bottom pasture (have never done this before so it’s going to be an adventure!), the ewes and lambs to the rotation around the farm, and to finish shearing them (when they are ready).  So don’t worry, I still have plenty to write about here!



This morning was a bit of a mess around the farm.  We had a pretty severe storm pop-up directly over the farm (it was good fun to watch on radar).  However, with the one and half inches of rain and hail, we got mud.  A lot of mud.  Ankle-deep, boot-sucking, stinking, manure-filled mud.  I knew that it was going to be a mess out there, so I rolled my jeans up (I still have to wear them to work after all) and pulled-on my mud boots and went and did morning chores.

Morning chores can vary a little depending on the weather and what all is going on, but generally they run something like this:  Feed the cats, fill-up sheep water, check hay or grass that the sheep are eating, let the chickens out of the coop, check chicken feeders, and do a general welfare check.  This all takes me around twenty minutes to do on a typical day.

This morning I was letting the chickens out of the coop and I checked under it to see if there were any sheep down there.  It’s a popular birthing spot and I hadn’t seen Charlotte yet that morning.  Sure enough, she’s under there but I don’t spot a lamb, so I figure that she’s probably just getting close and had chosen her spot.  I then go over the fence and into the chicken coop to check their feed.  While I am above her, I hear the unmistakable bah of a newborn lamb.  So I go back outside and look from another spot.  There was an empty protein tub that had gotten shoved under the hen house by the sheep by Charlotte.  I hadn’t been too concerned about it as it’s an empty tub.  Outside of a chicken flipping it over onto itself, it’s not going to hurt anyone and it’s way under the chicken coop.  In the darkness under the coop, with a black tub, I can just see a twitching of motion and hear another tiny little bah, and it’s coming from inside this damn tub.

So first I try to shove it out from under the hen house using a long handled tool, but it was too far under.  Charlotte is obviously distressed by her lamb being “trapped” in this low-sided tub and the lamb clearly wants to be out with mama as well.  Charlotte is a first-time mama, so I don’t want to freak her out any more than I have to.  So I know what I am going to have to do.

I go back to the house, grab a couple of dog towels (that’s what we call bath towels that have been down-graded from everyday use to more…. aromatic messes) and a damp washcloth and head back out to the coop.  I then did what any shepherd worth their crook would do.

I took off my pants.

Yes, you read that right.  My forty year-old self was running around with a t-shirt, panties, and mud boots on. I still needed to go to work that day and I needed clean pants to do so.

I hung the jeans from the fence and carefully climbed back over the it into the sheep yard and stepped into a bouillabaisse composed of fetid water, mud, uneaten hay, with sheep turds floating on top like festive marshmallows in a cup of cocoa .

I got down on my knees and, for lack of a better description, did a very tall army crawl under the chicken coop.  So, I’m sure that you all have excellent imaginations, so I will spare you too detailed of a description of this endeavor other than to say that had anyone been around at that particular moment, they would have had quite the view of my faded undies and me in a spectacularly unladylike pose. Once under the coop, it’s a lot drier than around it, and I quickly crawl to the trapped lamb and get it out, checking for sex and that it’s healthy.  (It’s a ewe, photos later, there’s no way I was taking my phone on this adventure).  The lamb goes over to her mama and starts nursing happily while I scoot the damn tub out from under the coop.  I then have to go back out through the same offensive barnyard broth as before, only this time with my face down almost in it.  It’s actually a little worse coming out from under the coop as both hands are now wrist deep in it along with my knees.  I carefully stand up (I really don’t want to fall into it) and toss the cursed tub over the fence.  As I am trying to ineffectually wipe this stinky stew off myself, it quickly becomes obvious that washcloth/towel combo isn’t going to cut it as the fetid water had already run down my legs into my socks and just wasn’t coming off very well with the washcloth.  So I get the worst of it off, pick up the remaining towels and my jeans, and start walking through the sheep pen back up to the house still pants-less.

The sheep, thinking that my jeans and the towels were a treat for them, start following me in my walk of shame, bellowing their displeasure that I wasn’t giving these wonderful jeans and towels to them to eat.  Herbert even goes as far as trying to steal a towel from my grasp, only to realize that it isn’t a yummy, and drops it.  By the time I am at the far gate, I have the entire flock of sheep behind me like a bizarre and very loud parade, drawing as much attention as could possibly be drawn to me in that moment.  Even the lambs are getting in on the action, dancing around the adult sheep, giving little choruses of bahs, not really knowing why they are doing it, just happy to be included in the party.   Finally I leave the relative safety of the pen after carefully checking for cars coming down our gravel road.  Thankfully, we can literally see people coming for at least a half mile in both directions, so I wasn’t too fussed as I walked across the farmyard holding a folded towel in front of me.

My dad takes this moment to come out of the house and simply asks me, “Did you get it?” as I had told him what I was doing when I had retrieved the towels earlier.  “Yep, ” I replied as I went into the house so that I could shower off my legs and arms, and change socks.

But I wore the damn jeans to work.



I feel like I need to catch up on a few odds and ends at this point.  So, to start; Charlotte is still heavy with lamb.  She is, however, starting to bag-up (her udders are getting large) significantly so I am hopeful that we won’t have to wait until May 31st for the arrival of her little one(s).

Abigail’s lambs both seem to be doing fine.  The little ram lamb hasn’t wanted a bottle since the first day, so I am pretty sure that he is bumming off of the other ewes.  Fairly successfully from the feel of his belly each time I grab him to check on him.  I’m really glad for this as bottle-fed rams have a tendency to become freezer rams as they can often become more aggressive with humans as a result of this early interaction.  The little ewe lamb, who I have named Alanis, will come and eat from the bottle when I offer it to her but isn’t acting hungry otherwise.  I think that she’s either a little bit of a piggy (which is possible!), or that she just isn’t quite as successful bumming off of the ewes and needs a little extra.  Either way, I will continue to check-in on her a couple of times a day.


The bright pink on the top of her head is a marking crayon that I have put there so that I find her more easily to check on her.  I have to reapply it every couple of days as she rubs it off.    By the way, this is her older sister, Allaura.  She was bellowing at me this morning and I didn’t even need to check her tag to know that she was Abigail’s daughter as she already has the makings for the same voice.


I received a question about the CDT shot and what it was.  I am from a farming background and sometimes forget that we are really in the minority because it’s also who I am surrounded by daily.  So please, if there are questions, ask.  You are likely not the only one!  Anyway, I should have actually written it CD/T as that is technically how it’s done.  In my head it’s CDT, thus I wrote it that way.  The CD/T vaccine is for sheep and goats and it prevents Clostridium perfringens Types C and D and Clostridium tetani.  I give the shot twice to lambs, once at around six weeks old and then about a month later.  I vaccinate everybody at the same time, so some of the lambs aren’t quite that old and other are a little older, but that’s a general timeline.  I also vaccinate older animals once a year with it.  The diseases that they prevent are deadly and often the very first symptom that you will see with them is death.  So vaccinate your lambs and kids.  And your children too (but that’s a whole other thing…)

Answering another question before it even appears, yes I get a tetanus shot yearly.  My Doctor and I have discussed it and given my lifestyle *ahem*  we have decided that it is in my best interest to simply get one every year.  On Wednesday I stabbed myself with the corner of one of the shearing combs after it had been on the shearing machine for a number of sheep.  I’m SURE it was covered with all sorts of stuff but I would never in a million years run to the Doctor’s office just to get a shot for it.  However, it is something this small that could give a person tetanus, and I’m not willing to die from lockjaw.

The Jacob sheep look so much better after their haircuts.  Marge is on the thin side, but hopefully I’ll be able to fatten her up a bit after a summer on good grass.  I really honestly couldn’t get a good evaluation of their condition with all the nasty that was on their backs when they arrived.


My flock has reached a size where I need to have a better way to handle to sheep on a daily basis.  I don’t have a chute system or anything like that.  I don’t even have a good way to get them all into a smaller pen.  I am seriously considering getting a working dog to help me.  My reason for this is simple, I need to be able to catch a sheep when I want to.  Yes I have friends that can help me at times, but I can’t be calling them all the time, at all hours of the day, to just come over and catch a sheep.  I’m also looking as splitting the flock into two parts so that I can graze some of them in a different area that is further from the house.  I need to be able to get the sheep to this grazing area in a group and get them home in a group.  Right now, the magic bucket of feed isn’t going to cut a half-mile walk down a grass waterway.  It’s just one of those things that I am trying to figure out if another animal in my life will be more stress or less stress overall…