Sarah Jane Humke

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

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:


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.


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:


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!





I finally reached my breaking point.

I was chasing the lambs out of the f*#$@&g cornfield the other night and there it was.  I didn’t know that it was so close, but boom, suddenly it was there.  It was like reaching a perverse goal that you don’t really know that you are aiming for.  I was just completely and utterly done with chasing sheep.

I had been thinking hard about getting a working dog for a while.  I’ve never had a working dog before so I didn’t know how to go about getting one, training one, and all the myriad of other details that come with a four-legged coworker.  At the IS&WF I spoke briefly with Wayne from Leaning Tree Stock Dogs about what I needed but we only had a few moments to chat (I was rather busy at the time) and so I got his contact information and called him.  We spoke on the phone for a bit about what I needed from a dog and we spoke again when I went out to his place that evening to make sure that I got the right dog for what I needed.  In this case, it would be about ninety-five percent sheep work helping me and about five percent cattle work helping dad when he needs it.

Working with sheep and working with cattle are two very different things for dogs.  Cattle require some nipping and a little more forwardness from the dog whereas with sheep you don’t want practically any nipping and most of the work is done with the eyes and body language.   Since sheep are such prey animals they have a tendency to strongly avoid any predator animal that seems to be hunting them, all the dog has to do is follow them in a menacing manner to make them move.  However, teaching the dog to move when and where you want them to is how they can actually help you rather than just causing chaos in the flock.

That is where I am at with this guy.  His name is Mike.


He is an almost two year-old Border Collie from working lines.  Currently he is still living at Leaning Tree and I am going out there several times a week and working with him.  This makes sense as they have the facilities for working with dogs to teach them as well as the fact that I don’t really know what I’m doing….

It will be a while before he comes home with me and I start him working with my sheep.  I’m viewing this period as employee training time.


I’m sure that you will be seeing lots of this guy in the coming months, but for now, know that he is part of the reason that I am not on here as much as I have been.

Tonight I broke a cardinal rule of farming.

There really aren’t too many of them.  It’s not like there’s a published rule book for farming mojo.  At least not one that I’ve ever seen.  So I guess I could say that I broke the cardinal rule of farming.

I had the audacity to think to myself that I might just be able to wear my jeans a second time before washing them.  Less than fifteen minutes later, they looked like this:


For the record, that’s manure.

As I was walking out to the chicken coop to collect the eggs, I hear lambs bah-ing with a seriously freaked-out tone and the feedlot cattle mooing and acting like fools.  I then see a little lamb running around in the feedlot being chased by nearly grown cattle.  The cattle weren’t trying to to hurt the lambs, they were just trying to play with them. I then spot another lamb in the back corner, cowering and basically so scared that it’s quiet.

So I start walking through some pretty serious amounts of manure chasing large steers off and trying to catch the one frantically running around bah-ing it’s little head off.  I catch her and get her out of the pen and then turn my attention to the one in the corner who has once again gained a crowd of steers checking her out and trying to sniff and or lick her.  However, one of the rowdier ones was trying to play with her and was bumping her with his head, getting more and more aggressive as she didn’t respond to his play invitations.  I ran over there and shooed the cattle away from the baby, all except the big doofus that really wanted to play with her.  I had to bop him in the face to get him to give me the space that I needed to pick her up.  Now I wouldn’t encourage just anyone to go up to what is probably a thousand-pound steer and bop it in the face, but this batch of cattle are pretty friendly and I needed to get to the lamb so I bopped him about as hard as I would bop my cat when she is play-biting me.

The lambs are both fine and run away as soon as I toss them out of the pen, so I’m not too worried about them at this point.  I can see them nibbling grass and watching as I try, in vain, to get some of the manure off myself.  I only end-up getting more on my face and in my hair.

I get the lamb out, get myself out and assess the damage.  The manure was higher than my ankle wellies but luckily it was fairly thick so it didn’t run over the tops, just went up my jeans a bit and made a total mess of my socks.  My jeans were disgusting as was my t-shirt from picking up the lambs and carrying them.  I smelled like a cess-pool and looked like the creature from the Black Lagoon.  I stripped off my clothes the moment I stepped into the house and started a load of laundry.  There are times that I wish that I could use scented laundry detergent and this was one of them…

I then took a very long shower and went to bed.

And this is what I get for thinking that I might end the evening with clean jeans….


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…”