Jacob sheep and Nubian goats and a whole lot of fence tweaking and adjustments and evaluating are going on. Dreamboat and Daisy Rose came to the farm last week and have been sticking close to each other. We quarantine our animals in a holding pen when they first arrive. This gives them time to adjust to the new sights, sounds, smells and routine and gives us a chance to evaluate, handle, observe, check for health issues and practice biosecurity for the farm. The measures we take aren’t fool proof, but so far they’ve helped us contain a lot of issues before releasing animals into the greater groups. We administer meds as needed rather than routinely and strive to raise animals with strong, healthy genetics and resistance to diseases and parasites. Keeping new animals quarantined for a while also helps us give an initial health evaluation so that we can recognize health improvements or declines and take notes of their original condition upon arrival. Everyone’s fields, pastures, forests, woods and yards are different. There isn’t a one size fits all. What worked well on someone else’s land might be a recipe for death on another. A mineral deficiency down the road might make an animal sick if they are overdosed when they move because the soil samples have different ratios, etc and the free choice loose mineral they’re given didn’t change. Also, an animal with a major parasite load or disease that isn’t treated can quickly contaminate your flock and land and you’ll have a bigger problem if you don’t intervene immediately… you may even be running all over the countryside trying to catch your brand new completely rogue animal if they’re not introduced slowly to their new surroundings… that is definitely what happened last week when Daisy Rose headed straight to California as soon as she hit the ground. It also happened 5 years ago when we brought our first blackbelly lambs home, but let’s pretend like it didn’t and that we learned our lesson the first time…
Anyway, that was a big and brief answer to a question that you didn’t ask, but it’s good information and if we can help anyone get a jump start on the lessons we’ve learned over the years then we want to do just that. After all, the Master’s of Agricultural Arts didn’t come from the books. It came from the blood, sweat and tears of this good, hard work. It came from the toil and turmoil and tests that we passed and failed with some very serious repercussions over the years. We are still learning. The best teachers always are.
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.’
The shearer came, she saw and she absolutely conquered. Since this is our first experience with wool sheep and we had zero point of reference for what to expect from a shearer, with the exception of our personal experience ‘shearing’ two of the ewes when they arrived on the farm, I must say that I am blown away by our experience. Nicole and I had been messaging back and forth for a couple of months when I asked if she’d come out to shear the small flock of Jacobs on the farm and when she showed up, I was a little nervous. You see, we have zero experience with fiber animals. Zero. Unless these last few months of tending to these Jacobs count then count us out of the fiber farming world. What’s a micron count? What’s luster and staple length? What exactly does VM stand for? These are all little things we are learning but I certainly don’t consider myself a fiber snob although I aspire to be one someday, because when part of your life includes ‘shepherding a small flock of wool sheep’ it’s kind of cool to know what you’re talking about.
So, Nicole arrived and made us feel right at home (we were actually in our front yard) and made us feel completely normal and like the best clients she’s ever had, which is simply because she’s awesome and knows her stuff and is happy to teach and share what she knows with the likes of us.
Andy had already loaded the sheep onto a livestock trailer in anticipation of shearing which was a good thing since Yoda sent us (andy, the kids on myself) on a wild ram chase for over an hour earlier that day. The sheep weren’t too happy to be out of the pasture, but they are all relieved to have lost their fleeces before they melt in the sunshine and warm weather we’ve been having. Nicole and Amy (her partner in crime) and Andy trimmed hooves while she taught us about how to evaluate body scores and eyelids and gum color to determine if anyone is anemic or needs some extra TLC. It is really nice to have a starting point for the flock’s health so that we can keep good records of everyone through the seasons.
It was also really great to identify names with faces, because the truth is that I only knew 3 of their names and that’s kind of sad, all things considered. But, they have tons of area to roam and they aren’t exactly coming to get their heads scratched when I go out into the field to say hello. That’s okay, because I almost have their names down now and I have a much greater appreciation for each of them after our shearing on Friday afternoon. They are awesome animals and I’m excited to see the lambs they produce and to improve their genetics with each generation that is born. Sheep are great.
We learned about Nicole’s business and ministry with Adonais Alpacas in North Georgia and are completely inspired and blown away by what she does. She’s a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of love and generosity. Thankfully, she not only shears sheep (and Alpacas) but she also processes the fiber. Hallelujah! So, the fleeces went back to North Georgia with her and will return as roving, which is the step before spinning into yarn. That seems much more manageable at this stage than learning how to skirt, wash, tumble, card, rove (?) and spin with zero experience and zero equipment. I’m not writing a tutorial on how to process wool anytime soon, because I don’t know. I don’t even know how to knit. Working backwards here, huh? Or maybe from the ground up which is exactly how we like it.
Every winter Andy takes inventory of our unoccupied beehive boxes and frames and repairs, cleans and assembles them to prepare for the Spring honey flow.
Some frames need to have propolis scraped off or wax moths parts removed (we don’t fumigate and they don’t survive in empty boxes) or boxes just need a good dusting. I love seeing how our beehive collection has grown over the years and remembering the ones that were painted with ‘oops’ paint or that are so chippy they’d make the latest shabby chic trend setters proud.
I love thinking about the honeybees that will occupy these beehives and hoping that they’ll survive for years to come. The hives all change year after year. Some strong hives have half a dozen shallow or deep boxes on them. Some weak hives just a couple. It’s always a puzzle and an interesting one to configure and observe.
Andy’s been keeping bees for 8 or 9 years now and it’s something we are both proud of and love to reap the benefits from. Just tonight, Pinecone asked why we have so much honey and simply understood that it’s because we are beekeepers. We are beekeepers.
Words mean more to me than I care to admit. A compliment will have me floating on clouds and a criticism can ruin my day. I know that my ‘love language’ is words of affirmation and boy was I feeling loved this morning.
You see, we are beekeepers and farmers and homesteaders and grow-your-own-fooders and all that kind sort of back to the land kind of stuff. We have been since we’ve been married and haven’t looked back, because well life just wasn’t quite as full back then.
Not like it is now anyway with children and umpteen hundred farm animals and who knows how many tons of chicken litter and 3 no wait, 4 different farms that we’ve been on in the last 6 years. Someday, Lord willing, we’ll have a place that our children’s children can glean from, but until then, we’ll keep stewarding the land to the best of our abilities wherever we live.
So, this morning when I received 3 different messages about our honey and our toil on the earth, I was over the moon. You know, we hear it every now and then. Someone will say our honey is the best they’ve had or we’ll win a blue ribbon at a honey tasting or a customer will call us with their yearly order to be shipped across the country or simply driven into Savannah. It always encourages us and gives us motivation and joy to keep going.
The crazy thing is, our honey is sitting in buckets in our bedroom. We’re making do, sitting on a pile of liquid gold in the corner of our bedroom, because we have limited space and that’s the safest place for it. Also, I haven’t been promoting our honey at all even though we’ve already harvested our spring and fall honey and reordered jars and it’s all ready I go. I’ve been sort of hung up about making a really cute label and transitioning from ‘Urbanna farm’ to ‘the honey bee queen’ for our honey jars when it really shouldn’t even matter what the package looks like, because like Andy always says: ‘good products sell themselves.’ I know details matter, but what really matters is that I love this gig. I also love when other people love this gig and tell me all about it.
Baby bananas are popping up in the pots under the big bananas. The strawberries from Bakers Creek have also exploded in the raised beds and multiplied by at least 150. I promise I’m not exaggerating. The rest of the garden seedlings are patiently waiting to be transplanted with their buddies into the ground and the greenhouse is looking fuller and lusher than ever.
Perhaps it’s the different fruit trees and bushes that are going to be put into the ground soon or the 11 raised beds that are overflowing with plants or the huge pile of potting mix and the smell of soil that I love. Or maybe it’s when Sweet Pea drops her sippy cup in the dirt to dump out the small pots of potting mix into a large container that will actually benefit from the extra dirt. Maybe it’s just Andy faithfully watering and tending to the precious seedlings and hardy trees and growing plants from seeds and taking care of us and the farm. That must be it. I sure love glimpses from the greenhouse.
Did I already share that we’re expecting a new little honey bee to join our crew? Well, we are thrilled and finally over the first trimester woes of nausea, exhaustion, queasy goodness that always accompanies my baby’s earliest weeks of development. I’m thankful for each season and this last one has been a doozy. We returned from our road trip completely wiped yet feeling accomplished and have jumped right back into the tremendous prep work that comes with changing seasons on a farm/homestead.
We don’t have snow or any major blizzards or knock your socks off freezes (it does freeze but the ground doesn’t remain an ice block all winter), but there’s still a lot of garden work, preparing a new flock of biddies to replace the almost 2 year old layers, taking off the shade cloth from greenhouse (okay that only took an hour, but it’s a change!) and the normal mulching and weeding and butchering and drying off the cow and milking the goats and bottling up the Fall honey and the whole shebang.
Honestly, things are always changing and evolving that it can sometimes seem monotonous. Sounds like a huge oxymoron, right? But, it’s true. It’s totally normal for no two days to ever look alike. No matter how much planning and prep work and scheduling you do, sometimes it all just sort of blends together into one big happy lifestyle of crazy. That’s just our life these days.
Andy and the kids are down at the Ohoopee River catching minnows while I take 15 to put my feet up as this roasted chicken finishes up in the oven. That reminds me of the new batch of meat chickens that arrived yesterday and that Bullfrog in all of his 5 year old glory is now solely responsible for the rabbitry. Andy will butcher, but Bullfrog is taking excellent care to be sure ‘Carrie Carrots’ (the buck) and ‘Rainbow’ (the doe) have plenty of sweet potato greens and water every day. We’re slowly getting back into raising meat rabbits after the fire ants decimated numerous litters last season. We had to call it quits for a while, but we’ve got a new system set up and are excited about it.
Lots of other little fun things happening including officially starting structured table time in our little homeschool. The boy already knows subtraction. I’m impressed and I promise it’s not because I’ve been drilling math problems into his mind. Oh my this has gotten long. It’s good to write again. Thanks for reading.
A brand new Charolais heifer calf was born just a few hours ago. Andy called me because he needed some help opening some gates while he carried the calf to an adjacent pasture that all of the mamas and babies are on with Frank, the bull.
I haven’t moved our minivan since my dentist appointment on Tuesday. It’s Saturday night. The kids have had colds. I’ve been homebound. It’s good.
When the boys and I went out to give daddy some assistance, while Buttercup napped, I was gently reminded over and over and over again why I love this lifestyle that we eat, sleep and breathe. It’s the life. The life all around that takes my breath away. It’s the miracle after the tragedy that makes me want to soak it all in.
The LGDs watching over the 4 horned sheep in the pasture. The chickens running around chasing bugs and scratching up the field. It’s the mama cow with her new calf and the geese on the pond. It’s the heirloom corn taller than my husband’s head and the farm boys learning how to drive at 3 and 5 years old. It’s the seeds in the soil and the sunset in the sky that give me hope and encourage my soul.
It’s the melted beeswax being poured into candle molds and the homegrown meals that are served at our homemade table. It’s the fresh food and the fresh air and the beauty of life all around. It’s the grace that follows the grave and the life that follows death. It’s the joy that comes after sorrows. We have many sorrows and heartaches. It’s part of life in our broken world. But, there is so much beauty to behold.
Today I saw a lot of it. Tomorrow is not promised, but these glimpses of our glorious eternity give me great hope. It’s a gift from God and I’m so thankful to Him for all of it and I’m inspired by everything good.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”(James 1:17)
It’s been a long time since we’ve made any candles. I guess between the farm work, house work and school fun the fun stuff that I love has been pushed to the side. That plus the fact that we really needed a solar wax melter to render some more beeswax.
He did get the solar wax melter fashioned and some wet comb went in right away. Now we’ve got beeswax (plus more from our friend/bee mentor Harold) and we’re back in action. Sort of…
I recently bought a mini pillar mold and made a few 3″ pillars for some adorable galvanized lanterns that I bought at Target last fall for 75% or something. I love them, but haven’t had candles to put in them. Knowing we had a stash of awesome beeswax and the other essentials, I knew it was time to get back to work on some candles. I made a couple of adorable mini pillars and made some super clean beeswax cakes and put my supplies away for a few days.
Then, we picked up a crockpot that could hold more than a cup of melted wax at a time and I made some more candles. I forgot to tie a knot at the bottom of the mini pillar the third time (don’t ask) and wax poured everywhere… Thankfully, I got most of it up because it was on wax paper (genius), but there are still bits of beeswax stuck on our counters…
It is incredibly satisfying to make candles from beeswax from our beehives. We know the beeswax is clean and doesn’t have any chemicals in it from treated hives. The candles smell amazing and make beautiful light. The lanterns are now glowing (after a year of doing nothing!) and I learned a good lesson about remembering to tie the wick.
Candles are simple. Beeswax candles are great. The best. Hopefully I’ll get a good stash for the moonlight farmers market coming up in Swainsboro at the beginning of September and for Andy to drop off in Augusta at Southern Made during one of his deliveries. Either way, I’m just glad we have our own candles again!
“I need you to pray right now.” Those are the first words I heard when I answered Andy’s call. Followed by a brief explanation that all 5 of the Jacob sheep he had picked up from a SC farm were now running in and out of 70mph traffic on i95.
Apparently, the trailer door came undone right after a brief potty break after 2.5 hours into the drive home. So, someone flagged him down to tell him the trailer door was swinging open and when he pulled over, the sheep jumped out. All of them. Into oncoming traffic.
So, I gathered our 3 children (ages 5, 3, & 1) and we hit our knees and I prayed: ‘God, please keep daddy safe on the road. Please help him get the sheep back on the trailer. Please keep him safe. Please protect him.’ Over and over and over because that’s all I could think to pray. Then, I text a dozen women in a few different group messages and asked them to PLEASE PRAY!
They did and they asked others to pray. There were different groups from different churches in different parts of the country praying for Andy and his desperate and extremely dangerous situation. Our friends came to help. Strangers stopped to help. For almost 4 hours they worked to recover the sheep. The traffic didn’t stop. Police never showed up. But, they persevered and people kept praying.
It’s an absolute and total miracle that Andy came home with all 5 live sheep. It’s amazing that no accidents happened during one of the 15+ times that the small flock ran in front of a semi truck or a family vehicle. It’s wondrous that none of our dear friends or their neighbors or the strangers that stopped to give a hand were hit or killed by a swerving vehicle on the side of the interstate. It’s an honor knowing that there are people in our lives that will stop what they are doing to come to our rescue and to pray for our needs.
Even though this incident happened over a week ago and Andy has already processed a bit of it on the blog at http://www.mccartneyfarm.com and our friends have heard the story multiple times, I’m still in awe. I’m thankful that Andy came home that night. I’m thankful that we got to shear 2 of those sheep the following day. I’m thankful that they are all acclimating to their new home here on Family Tree Farm. I’m thankful for our friends and family and friends who are like family that came to our aid and most of all I’m thankful to The Good Shepherd for watching over all of His sheep.