I’ve been writing a lot about sheep lately. I suppose it is the season for sheep adventures. Soon, will be bees since we’re gearing up for the Tupelo honey flow, the chicken eggs could also be a hot topic since production is steadily increasing with 91 eggs collected just today. The summer garden is about to be planted and one of my silkie hens just hatched out a duckling from an egg that was mischievously laid in her nest. I could keep a blog going with gardening content alone or animal husbandry or Andy’s chore list, I guess that is what homesteading is about, but this post is about our oldest kid’s recent birthday. He’s 6. Bullfrog turned 6 years old a couple of days ago and while it was a bit tough, because that’s the morning Yoda died, Bullfrog didn’t know it and we celebrated him and our love for our boy.
We did not have a big party or extravagant gifts. We did hang a few streamers and give him a few thoughtful books and a container to store his Legos. He was really excited about the container and I laughed when he exclaimed ‘yay, my own container!’ Our kid is awesome. Andy hand picked a sling shot and a multi tool for him, which is a step up from his pocket knife, because it has a good pair of pliers.
My sister, Olive and her husband sent him a fresh sketch pad, a ‘how to draw people’ book and some nice colored pencils. She’s an artist and she directed a children’s art studio in Atlanta for over a decade, so she’s the one who gives the easel, painting supplies, thoughtful games and more.
Andy’s parents Dan ‘grandad’ and Linda ‘grandma’ (formerly Goma, but we’re working on the transition to grandma after almost 5 years of being called Goma) came over for some grilled chicken and carrot cake and Bullfrog felt like a prince.
He’s a thoughtful boy. He adores his siblings and is incredibly intelligent. He has a memory like an elephant (I hear they never forget) and a very keen awareness of right and wrong. His heart is huge and he loves his neighbors. I am so glad that I get to be his mom. He’s growing fast and changing every day and I love that I get to be a witness to it all. I get to enjoy these fleeting years with my children and watch as Bullfrog paves the way for his siblings and continues to show Andy and I how to tackle this season of raising up children to be awesome adults. The days are long but the years are short is what I am reminded. I remember his birthday vividly. I remember the struggles to figure out motherhood (still working on that and probably always will) and I remember long before Andy and I met, praying for a husband and children. I didn’t always pray and I certainly didn’t always want a family or to get married and have children but when my heart was softened to the idea, I hoped I’d be a wife and a mother someday and now I am. They are all precious blessings and I’m so thankful we had the opportunity to celebrate our oldest and the last 6 years of life we’ve gotten to share with him.
There’s no easy way to lose an animal. The farm’s ram, Dragonwool Yoda passed away on Thursday and we’re frustrated to say the least. This is our first time losing a sheep to an illness and although we think we know the culprit, it doesn’t make it easier.
We have always been warned that sheep go down fast. We can attest to that fact now from our own experience. After treating him for what appears to be internal parasites and doing everything recommended, he still died. It was too late when we realized he was thin (he had an amazing fleece and showed no other sickly symptoms other than his body weight which is hard to visually observe under a gorgeous wool coat) and despite our best efforts to give him plenty of calories, supplements, medicine and time to heal, he’s gone.
I think the hardest lesson for me is feeling like a complete failure and terrible steward and admitting that a sheep died in our care. I know that death is a fact of life. I know that Yoda was a ram and not a person. I know that farming is hard and not for the faint, I’ve written about it over and over on our Urbanna Farm blog and experienced it over and over with different species. The sheep have a special place in my heart. They are special and losing a young, seemingly healthy, very promising ram just stinks. A gal who I’ve come to know and love sold Yoda to the farm and introduced us to the world of Jacob sheep. She’s become like a sister to us and I couldn’t even call her to give her the news. Andy had to do it. She’s been nothing but supportive (the entire farming/sheep community has been) because she knows. Sheep people know. She knows life happens and things don’t always go as planned. She’s been there and she still stands behind the breed and gives the encouragement needed to persevere. We will. Of course we will. Another amazing lady called me today to encourage and remind me of God’s sovereignty in all things. It’s exactly what I needed to hear.
We didn’t fail. All of the other sheep are healthy. With the exception of one of the ewes lambing early and her lambs not being viable, we are still going strong. The rest of the flock is expected to lamb any day now and we are hoping for a strong healthy crop of lambs. Hopefully they’ll all get the best of what Yoda had to offer. We’ll observe them carefully and the flock as a whole and continue to learn what good shepherding is all about. We strive to be excellent stewards. We want to produce excellent genetics and breed quality animals that need minimal medical intervention. We still want to grow our own socks and we’ll work toward that goal as long as we have the opportunity and knowledge and resources to do so. Dragonwool Yoda taught us some good and hard lessons about life. I’m thankful.
3 more ewes are coming to the farm on Saturday. They are pretty girls from the Canoe Lake flock and are being sold by a neat couple who raises dexter cattle in TN and wanted to have sheep as sort of a novelty addition on their farm. They brought the sheep home and soon realized that their dogs weren’t too pleased with the new sheep or maybe they were too pleased and viewed the sheep as play things, so in everyone’s best interest the sheep were posted for sale. My friend Alena from Dragonwool Acres tagged me in the ad on Facebook and the fun began. We asked Don (the owner of Family Tree Farm) if he’d be interested in adding the sheep to the existing flock, because we sure were interested and when his reply was ‘let’s do it’ I started figuring out acquisition logistics.
We have never used a livestock hauler before but that looked like our only option because Andy is completely booked from now to forever in preparation for a new season on the farm which means new babies (animal and human alike), new plantings, more eggs than ever and so so so much more. I get dizzy just thinking about what his daily lists look like much less trying to figure out what he’s got going on any given day, week or month.
After following leads for 4 different livestock transports and waiting for two other buyers to pick up the sheep, I did not expect them to actually join the flock here. After all, there was a deadline for the sheep to be rehomed and none of the haulers were available for a few weeks and other buyers were surely going to pick them up before us. Then, we arranged for Willie (Don’s son) to meet the sheep just west of Atlanta this Saturday. It’s sort of a middle ground meeting place which is incredibly helpful for us since we can’t make the trip all the way to Cleveland TN during this crazy busy season.
I am very excited to meet these girls and since I’m finally able to put faces with names of the Jacobs already here, it will be neat to figure out faces, names and personalities and eventually fleeces… These girls will need to be sheared right away too, which is another adventure to deal with. In the meantime, we are waiting for this year’s Jacob lambs to be born and getting the flock’s paperwork in order and preparing for our own sweet baby and painting cabinets (one of these days) and enjoying the craziness that comes with farming and homesteading. As Susan Brant always says, ‘never a dull moment.’
I didn’t want to sell it. I wasn’t planning on letting it go. I had just about 3 pounds of the most beautiful, sweet smelling beeswax that you’ve ever laid eyes on sitting on my shelf when I got the phone call. ‘Hey Melissa, this is D. we’re friends with R and we want to … and we’re looking for beeswax… starting a candle company… the refinery…’ I think my first response was something like ‘that’s awesome, but we don’t have any beeswax right now but if I hear of someone else with clean/chemical free beeswax then I’ll let you know. We are a very small operation and we don’t have bulk beeswax for what you’re looking for…’ It went something like that because I wasn’t going to sell my last couple of pounds of wax that I worked really hard to render and get all the bee parts cleaned out of to the competition. No way! After all, I just started making candles and needed it for my own candles and lip balms and soap. Besides, beeswax is valuable. At least to me. At least my beeswax is valuable to me because I know that it is 100% clean and free of toxins. I know our bee yard is very secluded and we don’t treat our bees with medications and our honey ‘crops’ are wild and aren’t being sprayed with herbicides and pesticides and other junk. Mosquito control doesn’t even fly over. I know it takes 7-9 pounds of honey to make a single pound of beeswax and that a honey bee spends its entire life to make 1 teaspoon of honey. It’s valuable. And it’s sold. Andy sold my beeswax.
After I spoke with D for about 10 more minutes guaranteeing him I’d let him and his wife know if I hear of any beeswax, I put Andy on the phone because of some other mutual interests and friendships. After my hackles went down (did you read the part about them starting a candle company and them being all professional with a cool name? ‘The Refinery’ is the name of their candle company by the way and Deliciously Unrefined is our farm business’ slogan by the way-weird, right?) and I heard Andy give a dissertation on honey and beeswax and beekeeping and then ask how much beeswax they need and heard him say-oh just a pound? Then I sort of gave him a glare and ‘don’t even think about it’ and then I totally caved and started looking for the scale to see how much I had. Because I’m a sucker and I felt guilty for having jealous thoughts and for hoarding my beeswax-even though it’s not technically hoarding when you use it and make things and sell those things that you make. That’s actually a business even if it’s a tiny business. Maybe it’s more of a hobby, but it doesn’t matter. My beeswax is sold and we’re actually having dinner with these strangers in a few weeks, because Andy also invited them over for dinner sometime and I suppose I’m going to have to get over the fact that I have to wait a while before we can harvest anymore beeswax for my own candles. That’s okay. Lord willing, we will harvest more and I’ll get over myself.