Sarah Jane Humke

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

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.


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.


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).


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.










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.




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.




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:


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.