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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Settling In June 9, 2015

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The last couple of weeks have been all about learning about and getting used-to the new members of the farm. The sheep are getting not only used to us, the humans,  but also to the other animals.  They are fascinated by the farm cats and will start a small stampede following one of the poor nervous felines right up to the fence!  Dusty, my little fuzzy white dog makes them all pause and investigate as well much to his discomfort.  If I sit down, often they will come right up to me and sniff my neck and nibble my hair, which I take as a compliment.

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The flock is remarkably quiet.  Everyone on the farm knows if someone has gotten out of the fence because one of the girls just goes nuts.  She has a high-pitched bah and if the flock was a high school class then the noisy one would be that one girl who always (loudly) said, “Hey! You aren’t supposed to be doing that! Wait for me! Wait for me! I’ll tell if you don’t wait for me!!!”  But honestly, that is about the only time that they make a noise other than chewing (they are loud chewers) or belching (ditto).

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Memorial day was all about worming and vaccinating.  I didn’t take any pictures.  You’re welcome.  We also moved the flock which didn’t go all that well (ahem).  Shetlands aren’t one of the strongest flocking sheep breeds around.  Plus most of these are young ewes.  All in all you have a recipe for some cabbage in the garden to be eaten!  We probably shouldn’t have tried to move them when we were tired from all the vaccinations and worming fun and they were all keyed-up from being vaccinated and wormed.  Lesson learned.

set 3set 4However, we do have a flock leader now.  Her name is Abigail and she can be by turns both amazingly easy to work with and a complete brat.  We’re still working out the kinks in the relationship:-) Only a handful of the sheep have names at this point.  Buddy, the big black wether, Abigail, Herbert (his scrapie tag is 1938, during the Great Depression [though I know not during Hoover’s administration, but he looks like a Herbert too]), and Liberty.  Her scrapie tag is 1976.

Miss Abigail being good.

Miss Abigail being good.

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Abigail and Herbert.

The sheep are amazingly good at keeping the lawn mowed and seem to relish their job.  They are also insanely curious about the chicken flock who have been moved to temporary outdoor quarters with the sheep (electric fencing and jealous wethers are added protection from the ravenous raccoons we have around here).  So far our county hasn’t been hit with the avian flu so we are keeping our fingers crossed that we can keep these girls alive since the cost of eggs has skyrocketed already.

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The Great Sheep Drive: Part Five-Homecoming May 13, 2015

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We are down the road from Kadoka by the time the clock read six am.  The sheep had their water removed (it would spill all over) and another half-bale of hay given to them.  South Dakota went by very quickly thanks in part to their eighty mph speed limit on the interstates.  We crossed the Missouri river and stopped there for a break.

pt5-1After the Missouri, the land quickly becomes less wild, more domesticated.  The vistas of buttes and exposed strata of rock morphs into orderly fields of grains and tidy farmsteads surrounded by windbreaks.  The further East we travel, the darker the just-planted soil becomes.  The ditches become greener and the trees more numerous.

We cross over into Southern Minnesota around mid morning.  It is here, when the land becomes distinctly more like home, that I start musing about hefting.  Hefting is a term that applies to sheep that are naturally bonded to the place where they were born.  You can take a hefted sheep away from its place and it will always try to return.  The most famous hefted sheep is the Herdwick.  Shepherds there don’t need to worry about their sheep wandering too far away as they really sincerely don’t like to be away from home.  I’m starting to wonder if there are hefted humans too.  As we moved further into territory like home I began to feel more at ease.  I was nearly giddy by the time I pulled into the driveway.

C backed the trailer up to the gate (I may be ok driving the rig by now but I am still NOT ok backing it) and then we went and checked the paddock for any problems.  There were only a few and they were all quickly taken care of.  We grabbed some more people to help unload them.  As we all waited, C opened the back gate.  At first they didn’t seem to want to come out but eventually the thought of freedom won and in ones and twos they came out of the trailer.  And then stop.  And immediately put their heads down and start to eat like they have never had a meal in their lives.  We didn’t have any trouble with them trying to bolt or anything, rather they wouldn’t move probably not realizing that there was more like that in their paddock!

I can’t really blame the sheep.  Where they were born and raised is very dry.  Even C was kind of taken with the sheer amount of GREEN that we have here right now.  I’m sure the sheep thought that they had died and gone to heaven!

C really needed to leave as she really wanted to get back to the ranch.  We loaded her up with canned goodies and bottles of honey and sent her on her way.

The sheep have already found a favorite spot to hang-out.  It is in a corner where two buildings meet so it is both sunny and out of the wind.  I have been watching them closely for signs of bloat or diarrhea as they did have a rather drastic change in diet.  But so far, they have all been good.   They even seem to be getting used to me checking on them repeatedly.  And taking lots of pictures.  LOTS of pictures.  I think I keep taking pictures of them because it is so hard for me to believe that they are actually here.

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I cannot thank all of the people who helped to make this happen enough.  Deb for introducing me to C, my parents for supporting me even if they might think me a bit nuts, all the people who work with C who put in the time and effort to allow this newbie shepherd her own flock.  My boyfriend, Joel, for helping me do the heavy lifting.  To my friends who offered support and advice.  And most of all to C for her generosity and her time.  Thank you.

 

The Great Sheep Drive: Part Three-The Ranch

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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These are the four that stayed home.

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The selection process

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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.

 

The great sheep drive: Part Two-Denver Airport May 12, 2015

I made it to Denver with plenty of time to spare despite the fact that the pilot himself called it, “The longest ever flight from Des Moines to Denver!” We had been rerouted around bad weather and it added a significant amount of time in the air to our flight. In the Denver airport, I purchased a couple of postcards for some friends and then got some dinner. I found my gate and sat down to wait. Outside the gate windows it was grey and raining and I felt sorry for the ground crew working out in it.

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Our plane loaded on time, and that was the last thing that went right for the rest of the evening. It started snowing about the time we got on the plane. This meant that the plane was going to have to be de-iced. They decided to keep us at the gate to wait for the de-icing rather than have us out on the tarmac.

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Finally they decided it was our turn to get de-iced and we had just gotten backed out of the gate when the captain came on to tell us our left engine wasn’t turning on and we had to go back to the gate to get it fixed. All the while, the snowstorm is getting worse and worse outside the plane. So back to the gate we go, where a team of mechanics descend upon our poor little plane and manage to fix the problem. At this point we are already over an hour late. So, instead of celebrating by taking off, it starts snowing harder, fiercer. The queue at the de-icing area is quite long now and control doesn’t want us leaving our gate.

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Then, at some point, they decide that the line isn’t going to get any shorter so they decide to deplane us. It is just at this point that Denver International Airport is hit with a massive power surge plunging the whole facility into emergency-lit madness. Communications went down and they were not able to make the jet-way move. We kinda decide as a group that it is probably better to stay in the plane where there is light and heat than to go into the darkened airport. Eventually power is restored and we are allowed off the plane where we ravage the one place selling food and drinks still open in our concourse.

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I have been calling the person that is coming to get me in Helena all night with updates. At the point where I am pretty sure that we are going to be spending the night in the airport, the desk crew for our flight suddenly calls out that our flight needed to quickly get back on the plane. You have never seen a group hustle faster. We all get on the plane and go through all the pre-departure checklists and actually make it out to the de-icing area and start getting worked on. Then one of the de-icing trucks breaks down and it is snowing so hard that the other one can’t keep up with it. At this point it is nearly 11pm. I think that the captain is about ready to cry as he makes this announcement. But then, they send in the cavalry in the form of 3 more trucks. We finally get de-iced and take-off. We are over 4 hours late. I arrive in Helena at nearly 1 am and I manage to recognize the person there to pick me up straight away. Thankfully my drive to the ranch was quiet and I was quickly able to go to bed.

In spite of all of this, I really want to say a thank you to all the flight and ground crews that eventually got my flight in the air.  I have been in situations where anything that can go wrong did and I know how frustrating it can be.  However everyone with United maintained not just their professionalism but also their humor and that can mean all the difference between a frustrating experience and a horrible one.

 

The Great Sheep Drive: The First Leg May 9, 2015

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I am sitting in the Des Moines airport writing this waiting for a flight to Denver.  This isn’t the original plan.  I was supposed to be flying out of Cedar Rapids to Chicago then onto Denver but due to weather issues I am now flying directly to Denver.  So, score one for me, oddly enough.  It’s not often that weather cancellations actually make for a better flight path but they did for me today.  I found out early enough about the cancellation to be able to reroute and get to where I needed to be in plenty of time.  Also, for the record, the United agent that I spoke with one the phone was absolutely lovely and helpful.

There are tons of Iowa State students flopped about in the various gates, exhausted by either the finals that they just finished with or the parties that came after.  Listening to their conversations makes me both miss being at school and to be very glad that I am no longer there.

I know that the weather I am going to be flying into isn’t nearly as nice as the weather we are having here today.  I have packed a jacket and even gloves.

Adventure here I come!

 

Countdown May 2, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sarah Jane Humke @ 8:03 pm
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In less than a week I will be flying out to Montana to get a flock of sheep.  I have not had a lot of spare time to write here of late as I have started the new job and it is taking even more of my time than I thought it would. It is good to have some money coming in but it would also be nice to have a little more time to get things done around here.

I have also been trying to get things ready for the incoming sheep.  This means, of course, fencing.  I have put up a semi-permanent paddock for them with cattle panels and t-posts.  I am also getting some electric netting that I will use to move them around the farmstead soon.  This way they will be able to graze all around the farm for shorter periods of time.

Oh, and did I mention the garden????……………..