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.


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).


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.





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: 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

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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????……………..


Slacking* March 29, 2015

Spring is usually busy, but this year is even more so than usual for me.  First up, it was my brand new niece’s baptism last weekend.  I decided to make her a Christening Shawl/blanket for the event.  I then decided that it should really be hand-spun Shetland laceweight.  With wool from Shetland of course!  Well, I’m sure that you all can see exactly where this is going…

I ended-up finishing casting-off at around four o’clock on the Saturday before.  I blocked it on my bed that evening.

slacking 4Luckily it was one of those super easy things to block and all I had to do was kind of pat it into place and let it dry for a bit.  I have a heated bed so that helped to move things along a bit:-)  It was dry and ready for the baptism that morning.

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Thanks to my SIL for taking this photo. I wasn’t able to take many photos with my niece IN the blanket as I was supremely busy that day with the lunch for the family after church.

I was amused by two facts during the baptismal sermon.  First, I’m not in church all that often and that Sunday I was sitting in the front row of a pretty full church.  The second was this:

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Yep, the whole sermon was about sheep and goats:-)

For those interested, the shawl/blanket is a strongly adapted version of a traditional Shetland Christening shawl pattern.  I skipped the edging and added a picot cast-off in its place.  The yarn was spun from about 284 grams of the Jaimeson and Smith Shetland Supreme combed roving.

I just happened to finish it when I was helping out my friends Ellen and Wanda at their booth for their shop Fiber Curio and Sundries at Fiberpalooza in Winterset, Iowa on Saturday.  I took absolutely zero photos as my hands were busy the entire day long either setting up or knitting the shawl.  However, it was a really fun event to both attend and sell at and I had a good, though very long, day.

Thursday and Friday were involved in the final classes for my Annie’s Project course.   I think that now is a good time to share with you what the business I was taking this business planning class for is.  I am getting sheep.  Or to be quite precise, I am getting about 20 or so Shetland ewes.  It’s a bit of long story, and I’m not a hundred percent sure that all the parties would like me to share it, but I can say that it’s kind of one of those things where karma has come full circle.  I have booked my flights out to Montana where the sheep currently reside and will drive back with them.  So there is a lot to do on the ground here to prepare for them.  Fencing for one.  These ladies have not been in fences a lot in their lives, which could be either a good or a bad thing.  Currently I am working on an area that will be somewhat permanently fenced for when they first get here and probably for parts of the winter as well.  I am going to purchase some electric netting so that I can move them around and graze the different areas of the farm and keep the grass and weeds down.

This is honestly, a kind of dream come true for me as I have wanted some ever since I visited the islands in 2010.  I adore their wool, I find the sheep to be appealing in their durability and size and I enjoy the variety of colors that they come in.  I have hesitated to write about it here as I wasn’t sure that it was really going to come to fruition.  But now with plane tickets booked (thank you frequent flier miles!) and making plans for fences and trying to find a livestock guardian animal, it is all starting to feel very, very real.  If anyone knows of someone looking to re-home a donkey in the Iowa area, please let me know.

Dusty got “sheared” one of our warmer days.  It wasn’t a perfect job as he wanted to chase cats and I didn’t want him to chase them but it worked out ok.


Before: “Look at those cats making fun of me!  Must chase them!!!!!”

See what I mean by "shearing"?

See what I mean by “shearing”?


After: “The cats are laughing at me.”

I would have saved it to spin had I given Dusty a bath prior to his spring shearing.

I would have saved it to spin had I given Dusty a bath prior to his spring shearing.

I’ve been destashing a lot of mini skeins of sock yarn on Ravelry.  If you are interested (and the link doesn’t work) just go to the group “Mini Mall” and the thread called “Random Sets”.  I still have a lot of sets available and am willing to mail wherever you want in the world (with a few small exceptions:-).

On top of all of this has been seed starting and garden planning (in that order, it doesn’t always go in the order it should have you know!).  This year we are having a fifty foot by seventy-five foot garden.  Should be exciting!

Oh, and I got a full-time job finally.  I start in April and it will involve a lot more commuting than I am used to.

*For the irony impaired, I haven’t been slacking.  Quite honestly I’ve been as busy as a one-armed paper hanger!!!


Still washing…. May 6, 2011

I finally finished washing a very large Jacob fleece that I got a couple of years ago (hangs head knowing that I should have washed them when I got them).  It wasn’t that difficult to wash, just that there was a LOT of it.  Most of the Jacob sheep that I have “met” have been pretty good-sized animals.  There are more than a few of them around here even, though I think that they are more pets and lawn mowers than normal sheep as they are fun to see with their coats of many colors and multiple horns.  I’ve moved onto a moorit Shetland that was purchased in the same batch as the rest of the British wool group.  It’s not nearly as nice as the fleeces that I picked-up in Lerwick from the special room at J&S.  Then again, the special room in J&S is a result of Oliver and his 60+ years experience working with Shetland fleeces.  When he sees a particularly interesting one, or a really, really nice one he pops it in there for the handspinners.  This Shetland of unknown provenance is nice, though seems quite dusty.  The water is less tea-like and more mud-like than I’ve seen to this point.  It also smells dusty.  Not like a barn like some of them have smelled but more like a shed where harvesting equipment is stored.  I know that is really splitting hairs (and that the majority of people in the world aren’t going to have a clue as to what the hell I’m talking about) but it is interesting.  It doesn’t smell particularly sheepy to tell you the truth.  Some of the Shetland fleeces that I got in Shetland had a lot of peat in them which made them “fun” to wash (more like I was dunking giant tea bags with wool in them over and over and over) but none of them smelled anything like this.  In fact, it makes me think that this fleece may have been from a Shetland sheep that isn’t located on the islands.  I have nothing to back this up unless I want to get all CSI on its ass (I could sample the “mud” that I am getting out of it and see what it’s composed of and then compare that to soil surveys taken of the islands…. Ok, wow, just geeked myself out there for a little bit!).

Anyway, I am glad to see the back of the Jacob as I was starting to get a tad on the bored side with it.  After the Shetland of unknown provenance I have 3 colored fleeces that were sold as simply “Fine Wool Coloured £2.75” and a “Cheviot £4.50”.  Just to stave off the question that I know is going to be coming, the huge Jacob fleece was £3, the Coloured BFL was £5.25 and the Shetland of unknown provenance £3.75.  Now, for those of you in the US that are beginning to hyperventilate over those prices for fleece, let me explain something.  This is an island covered in sheep.  In some areas farmers burn or mulch the fleeces that they get from sheep because they aren’t worth enough to pay for the shipping to the market (though, hopefully this won’t be the case this year as fleece prices have gone up significantly there).  I also didn’t get to choose the fleeces that I got for those prices.  But (hopefully I don’t have folks after me with wool combs after posting this!) the total price for the 7 fleeces that I got from the British Wool Marketing Board in 2009 was £33.70 and that included shipping to my house.  This isn’t tooooo uncommon of a price to tell you the truth.  Last year I got a Leicester Longwool at Woolfest for around £9 and the year before that I got a really nice Herdwick for £5.  All of my Shetland fleeces from Shetland were between £5 and £10 (they were priced per kilo) and they were really really nice, like they would have possibly gone for triple digits at Rhinebeck…  Some of the more canny farmers are starting to mark their fleeces up a bit for things like Woolfest, but most of them don’t too much yet as it is just too easy for most spinners here to get fleeces for very cheap or for free still.

So, you might be wondering what brought about this wool washing extravaganza all of a sudden.  One word: Moths.  I found a few in the downstairs part of the house on yarn that had been left out for ornamental purposes.  It’s not too surprising to find them given that A.) the house has no screens on its windows so every Tom, Dick and Harry Moth can fly in when it gets warm out if they want to and B.) there are sheep (and wool) all around us.  When I go for walks this time of the year, it’s not uncommon to find bits of wool in places that I know no sheep has been around and lining the sides of the roads after the wool truck has come.  So there is plenty of food for the insidious destroyers of goodness just laying about.  Anyway, I had all of these unwashed fleeces in the attic which (thankfully) hasn’t yet seen a single winged harbinger of destruction, but I was just waiting for it to happen.  That many unwashed fleeces could just draw them like the One Ring drew power seekers to Frodo (sorry, been watching the LOTR trilogy the last few nights).

So last weekend the hubby and I made fleece bags (large, pillowcase-like bags to hold [in my case] clean fleeces) out of some old sheets that we had from Florida for covering plants when it froze there.   He did the sewing and I did the cutting and we busted out a about a dozen in a little over an hour.  Into these bags I put a small notecard with all the information I have about a particular fleece covered with a plastic baggie.  I also put any original paperwork that may have come with the fleece into this baggie if I can.  The plastic baggie keeps the paper from getting funky and makes it a little easier to find.  After I put the fleeces into the fleece bags I will then put a couple of fleeces in their individual bags into a large, IKEA Dimpa bag and zip it closed.  That way I have a couple of layers of defense between the fleeces and the dusty-winged bringers of doom (layers of defense: Clean fleece [moths like it dirty], cotton bag [not much of a defense, but it is a layer] plastic breathable bag [more of a defense {I do not believe the stories about moths eating through plastic bags, much more likely in my opinion that there was a small hole in the bag to begin with or that (and I know that no-one wants to believe this of themselves) they put the woolen product away with moths or their eggs already on it and they then had a feast inside the sealed plastic bag} though still not perfect], in the attic [have lots of the new type moth balls up there {not the nasty ones we remember from when we were young, these are sort of greasy and actually smell nice}]).  I’m glad to finally have these washed as I’ve worried over the past few years that I was going to go up to the attic and find big paper bags (that’s what the fleeces came in) full of little squirmy moth larvae with their parents fluttering towards the heavens.  Also, at least in this house, clean fleeces take up less space than the dirty ones do.  This is mostly (I think) from the rather intense skirting that I give to some of them.  I’m not going to try to scrub caked-in manure from a fleece unless it is made from freaking gold.  Life is too short, fleeces are too cheap and it’s just plain icky.  The manky bits that I don’t use go to a neighbor to either compost or use as mulch on her allotment.

I do plan on getting some more fleeces at Woolfest this year if I can.  I live in a place where some pretty rare breed fleeces can be had for a really reasonable price.  Even if I don’t spin them for a while, I am going to wash them ASAP this time so I don’t stay awake at night having visions of Tineola bisselliella chowing down on them.

In completely unrelated news, I had good luck (in my opinion, not so much in my husbands) at the Tring auction.  Since I was busy last Saturday I bid on-line, which is really quite easy, though I’m not completely sure that you will get the absolute best price you could for it.  One of the things that I won was a set of Gardening Dictonary from the 1890’s which is in excellent condition with all sorts of clippings and even a proper letter inside one!  I love books with extra bits of emphera in them.

I also got the rockingest little set of tables.  We currently have a big, long sectional couch that has no end tables or coffee table for visitors to set their drinks on when they are chatting with us.  This solves that problem with little tables that slide out and can be used for each person!  Score!  Also it is the perfect size for our printer downstairs.  Double Score!!

I also signed-up for classes at Knit Nation again this summer.  I nearly forgot about the registration opening despite receiving multiple e-mails reminding me about it.  I did get 2 out of the 3 classes I wanted and am on a waiting list for the 3rd.  The two classes I’ll be taking (for sure) are both by Judith McKenzie and are Spinning a Fine Thread and The Gentle Art of Spinning for Socks.  The 3rd class that I wanted was Franklin Habit‘s Photographing your Fiber which, if I read things right, sold out in about 5 minutes after registration opened.  (Me thinks he might want to offer more of that class in the future!)  So, I would never ever wish ill on someone (who wasn’t cutting me off in traffic [and lets face it, that doesn’t technically count as it would be physically impossible for them to actually do that]) so I’m wishing for really really fantastic things to happen to everyone in my way of taking that class.  Winning trips to Tahiti, getting married, having a baby (that they really wanted of course!), moving to Australia, whatever floats their boat so that I can take their mooring space when they leave.  It’s not bad for your karma if you wish good things for people so that something good can happen to you is it??

I’m also getting ready for 2 Finns and a Yank hit the road Part II.  Barbro and Malin are coming back over for (hopefully) a more laid back visit (for all of us!) again this summer.  We are driving up to the Lakes District to go to Woolfest as well as to check out the area.  We’re going to be spending 3 nights up there.  This will be the most time that I have spent up there and I am looking forward to having a leisurely look around for once.  They will be staying with us for about a week and we are all really looking forward to it.  Well, except for Kali, Malcolm’s girlfriend next door.  Malcolm gets so wrapped-up in Malin that he frequently forgets about his other blond!  We’re driving up the day before so that we can get there bright and early and I at least, plan on hitting the fleece tables early and often!  (I can hear the husband keening as he reads this tonight… Sorry honey!)

So that takes care of June and July and as of right now I don’t have any concrete plans for August.  There might be something there, but it is with the hubby so am keeping it under wraps for the moment.

On other unrelated news, I’ve had very good mail this week.  I got my first installment of Knit magazine’s sock club that was dyed by Skein Queen.  It’s a lovely yarn with a nice twist and colors that I like.  She named all of the colorways that she did for the sock club after books.  Mine is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  It’s a great start to the club and I am very pleased with it!