Sarah Jane Humke

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

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

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

getting 1

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

getting 6

Herbert is back in jail for too many escape attempts.

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

getting 4

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

getting 5

getting 2

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

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

getting 3


The Great Sheep Drive: Part Three-The Ranch May 13, 2015

I awoke this morning to the sound of honking geese.  They were flying low near the window of the bedroom I had been sleeping in.

I peek out the windows to look and the first thing that I notice are the mountains.  I’d not been able to see them the previous evening/early morning when I had arrived as it had been quite dark out.  I opened the door of the room and there, in a set of picture windows, were more mountains.  I know that they are not revolutionary to anyone who lives near them but to start your day off in a place so completely different (read: non-mountainous) and to wake-up the next day in the mountains, well, it will get your attention.

After getting dressed I headed outside where it was crisp but not cold and clear as can be (to me at least).  C finds me and offers me breakfast.  After eating we go off to tour the ranch (I nearly wrote farm. This is NOT a farm. It is a ranch.)  She takes me out to where some of her crew is taking the wethers and unbred ewes and a camper for the shepherd out to a new camp where they will spend a good chunk of the summer.  There is sagebrush everywhere with rocks littering the surface of the soil between clumps of grass.  The dogs are working hard at keeping the sheep from stopping to much on grass they travel.  We leave the caravan as it starts to go through an underpass that looks like a giant culvert under the interstate.

We then go to meet my future sheep.  They are in a pasture with a long, low log shed.  They quickly shy away from us and hide in the dark shed.  We shoo them out so that I can take a good look at them in the bright, mountain light.  Most of them are yearling ewes, but there are 3 wethers as well, their little horns and bigger size giving them away. They are an assortment of colors and patterns.  They gaze back at me with a combination of fear and curiosity as I start to try to decide which four not to take back to Iowa with me.  They are an assortment of colors and patterns and I know that the choice will not be easy.


C then walks me around the ranch, showing me the pasture where the ewes with the youngest lambs are being kept.  She also shows me her lambing jugs and how they paint mark the lambs to make sure that the correct mother ends up with right lambs.  She explains the numbering system that they use and how they keep records of all the lambs.  We end-up in the pasture with the ewes and the slightly older lambs.

Quite honestly, I’ve not seen this many sheep since I left England over two years ago.  I’d forgotten the cacophony of a field full of bleating ewes and frantically baa-ing lambs.  And the colors!  Everything from a white body with a white face to a completely, coal-black sheep to a lamb with a creamy underbelly with a black topside was to be found in that field.


We then walked down to the pasture where the rams were kept, well away from any possible female companionship.  There are only a few males that service the entire ranch, though the line-up does change periodically.  They were handsome and not at all aggressive towards us.


C also showed me the traditional shepherd’s trailer that she has restored.  It is cosy and quite able to be heated with a simple wood stove in the corner.


After lunch we started making plans for the great sheep drive.  It was decided that we would do it in two days rather than one (it would have been a LONG day).  We checked the weather and road conditions and started talking about all that needed to be done still.

We went back up to check on the camp being made, actually going through the giant culvert/underpass in C’s car.  There was and old timbered grainery/cabin that we passed on the way to camp that fascinated me.

We knew we were close to camp when we spotted the sheep grazing under the watchful eye of the livestock guardian dogs.  The small camper was parked on a small piece of flat land amongst some pines.  A small solar array was set next to it to give the shepherd at least a little electricity.  The location boasted a lovely view and smelled of fresh-cut pines.

After going back down, my future sheep were rounded up and driven across the road using Emma the collie.  Emma is a very good dog who sometimes really likes to be naughty.  She would drive the sheep perfectly to where she was supposed to have them only to scatter them and drive them back the way they came just so that she could do it all again.  To say that she is fun to watch work would be a massive understatement!


We finally get the animals across the street and into a small pen with a chute where I am to pick out the four that won’t be coming to Iowa with me.  Since they are pretty crowded in the pen and I had just watched them all run, I didn’t worry too much about physical condition.  One had some pinkeye that was being treated so we pulled that one.  That left three to choose.  I ended-up going purely on what I liked color wise.  I figure that these are animals that I am going to have for many years, I should really like them right from the start.  So into the pen with the pinkeye animal went a red one (it’s a hard color to match to), a black one (that had some red in its fleece, unlike the pure blacks still in the pen), and an off-white one with a black face.  There was nothing wrong with the last three, I just needed to pick four!  It wasn’t easy and I am still trying not to second guess myself.


These are the four that stayed home.


The selection process


What I saw when I was choosing sheep.

We then took my flock (it seems so strange to write that) across the road again to a pen where it would be easy to load them in the morning.  The sheep were watched curiously by the ranch horses as they were given some hay for the night.

C and I then went to dinner in the tiny town of Wolf Creek where we met with her office manager to finalize the paperwork for the sheep to be transferred into my name as well as legally driven through five different states.  It was a little overwhelming to have all the different numbers and what they were for explained to me.  I think that the ladies could see that and gave me some time to ask questions so that until I felt confident about what I was doing.  At least for a few minutes:-)

After a beautiful drive home through an amazing canyon, both C and I were ready for bed, knowing that the next several days were going to be quite long ones.


A Good Day to Be Born March 23, 2011

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In the field over the road today we have lambs being born in:



And Three’s!

The score so far (it’s a little after noon) is 2 singles, 2 twins and a set of triplets.  9 so far today!

(sorry about the photo quality, long range lens with little moving things….)


Soggy Boggy April 16, 2009

It is a rainy afternoon here in the not so lovely (currently) English countryside.  Actually, I don’t know if rain is exactly what I would call what it is doing outside currently.  It’s very misty and really closer to a drizzle than a full-on proper rain.  Let’s just put it this way, the dogs look at me as though I’ve gone daft when I ask them if they would like to go out.  They know what that sound on the conservatory roof means, they aren’t stupid!

So I thought that today would be a perfect day to sort out the attic.  We threw a bunch of random stuff that we had given-up hope of finding a home for up there before we had our guests this weekend and it was rather a mess.  We also had both lightbulbs burn out at the same time and a bunch of internet problems which meant that we were up there a fair amount, in the dark.  So, while I was at Homebase yesterday, I picked-up a couple of el-cheapo energy saving bulbs and put them up there.  Anyway, we had also decided to put the iPod player that Chris had picked-up cheaply while living here before I came up there as well for me to listen to when I go up to commune with my stash.  Thus, on this soggy, boggy day, I sorted the attic.  I know, my life is just riveting.  

The field across the road with the ewes is getting actually pretty thin of sheep.  The day that the ewe has the lambs the farmer comes and moves them to another pasture.  This daily ritual is actually pretty fun to watch as the farmer will pick-up the ewe and put her in the back of his pick-up/landrover.  As you can imagine, the sheep isn’t too keen on being picked up so some pretty hilarious struggles ensue.  The best, however, is the lambs.  For only being but a few hours old, they can be quite wily and quick.  It’s fun to see just how good of a struggle some of these wee little things really put up.  I’m sure that the farmer wouldn’t appreciate me cackling away in my 2nd story window at him trying to catch the little buggers, but since he probably doesn’t read this then I’m not going to sweat it too much.

I am nearly to the point in my commissioned blanket that I cannot go any further without the gold yarn.  I await the postman every day but he just keeps shoving bills and junk mail through the slot.  That is actually one of the things that I have been amazed at since getting here.  The amounts of junk mail and the level of sales calls.  It’s been so long since we had a landline telephone that I had completely forgotten just how many damn telemarketers really can call!

Cast on, a podcast made by an American that is living in Wales, has become my newest obsession.  Terri from Yarn Therapy mentioned it to me, ok, more like told me that I should really give it a listen.  So I have been and she’s right, it is a really great listen even if it is about knitting and not it’s fairer cousin.  Check it out for yourself.  It’s available for free at iTunes.

Today I also made a very grown-up decision.  I am not going to go to Wonderwool Wales even though I really, really want to.  Did you know that Wales has the highest density of sheep of any country in the world?  Neither did I until quiz night at the pub!  Anyway, Wonderwool Wales is the weekend that I am traveling home to Florida to graduate from college (not collage).  I could go on the 25th of April as I fly on the 26th but that just seems, well, fraught with possible serious calamities.  I mean, what could possibly go wrong with a plan that involves me driving, more than likely, alone all the way to Wales and back the night before an international flight?  So, Wonderwool is now on the list of things to do in 2010.  Sigh.  Oh well, can’t bitch too much given that I will be going to Maryland Sheep and Wool!  (I know, I know, I suck.  Love you too!)

Yesterday was a pretty major shopping expedition to Leighton Buzzard.  I got there ok (which is noteworthy as I feel that Leighton Buzzard is a suck of roadsigns and unnecessary traffic circles) and did the big Tesco and Homebase and then I decided to check out the Aldi.  Normally it is closed when I am there but since it was the middle of the day I was good to go.  I hadn’t been in this store before, and the stores that I had grown-up with in Iowa only really had frozen or canned items,  so it came as a huge surprise that it had stuff!  Stuff like clothes and plants and cut flowers and toys and well, you could feel this coming couldn’t you?  Yarn.  Yes, the Aldi had YARN in it.  Just plain acrylic, but it was good quality (think Vanna’s Choice) and cheap.  3 pounds for 5 balls.  500 grams of yarny goodness.  Of course, I had to buy it!  We need to encourage more grocery stores to carry yarn don’t you think?  It is part of our quest for world domination….


Yarn! Aldi! Who would've thought?

Yarn! Aldi! Who would've thought?


See, even CHEAP!!  I think I love Aldi now.....

See, even CHEAP!! I think I love Aldi now.....



Another random factoid for you today.  The Union Jack is made up of the crosses of the patron saints of England, Ireland and Scotland but not Wales.  Interesting no?


Birth-Day! April 9, 2009

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Tyra, put that pattern for a baby sweater down!  I’m not talking about me (yet) but rather my neighbors across the road.  There are, at last count, 4 sets of twins in the field next door that were not there yesterday.  In fact, one set I got to see being born this morning on our daily walk.  Another set had just been born and the mama was cleaning them still.  It’s so amazing to see these teeny-tiny lambs plop out and proceed to stand right up and try to nurse!  The ewes talk to the lambs in this low voice in the first few minutes of their lives that isn’t quite a bah, more like a cat’s purr.  The lambs get straight up and start head-butting the ewe’s udder.  (Can I get an OWWWW!!!!!! from all the other women out there?!!?)  It seems that almost all of the sheep that have lambed so far have had twins.  Way to go farmer!  Some of the ewes are so very pregnant that it looks as though they have a large beach ball under their wool coats when they lie down in the sun.  

This week has been interesting, not just for the baby-making going on.  We had our first quiz night in the pub on Monday night.  Our team didn’t place last, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying!  We had a lot of fun and met a lot of the local villagers which was nice.  We also found out that our cat, Milo, is becoming a bit of a celebrity in town.  She is apparently the local neighborhood watch as she is always seen in the windows as people go by.  We would tell folks where we live and they would reply, “Oh, you have a grey cat don’t you?”.  We found out that there is also another Milo in the village who is also grey.  Now, what are the chances of THAT?


The Village Watch while still in the US

The Village Watch while still in the US