School of Wool

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

XO

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Greenhouse Glimpses

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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. img_0100

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.

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XO.

The Relatives Came

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One of my favorite children’s books is ‘The Relatives Came’ by Cynthia Rylant. I first discovered the book when Andy and I were interning at Brant Family Farm in SC and fell in love with the story. Mainly because it reminded me so much of my family and how we visit and hug and laugh and breathe together.

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I have a sister and a niece in VA and it is one of our favorite places in the country. The premise of the book is that the relatives came from VA and they all got to spend the summer together. I’ve been reading this story for the last couple of years at our Shaner family gatherings and it always makes me cry. I’m a bit sappy and sentimental sometimes and this book reminds me so much of those that are near and dear to my heart. So, when I pulled out the book to read to my sweet niece, she patted me on the leg and said, ‘you don’t have to cry, I’m right here.’ And my heart exploded with love and joy and gratitude for her precious little soul and her wisdom beyond her years.

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She’s 6. My sister, her mother, and I are 18 months apart and were incredibly close growing up. We were comrades in the truest sense of the word and we had each other’s back, always and no matter what. Seeing my beautiful sister, Aubrie, in my niece’s eyes and having her in my home for just a day filled my cup. I wish they lived closer. I wish our kids were growing up together as best friends. Cousins by default and friends by choice. But, for now, they live in VA. For now, I’ll wait eagerly for their visits and be thankful for the precious hours that we do have together and continue to hope for more.

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My sweet niece will have one of the Great Pyrenees puppies with her at her dad’s house. She came down and was surprised with a puppy by him. We arranged it a few weeks ago and I could hardly wait for the day. Knowing that the last puppy to be picked was meant to be hers has given me so much peace. When he contacted me to inquire about a pup, I knew it was meant to be.

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So, they drove down from VA. She met her new puppy and played with her cousins and read books and told me about her life in VA. We ate together and played games together and breathed together. And that’s all that mattered. Then, they packed up their car with a sweet puppy in tow. Another soon-to-be-mama-bear-dog in the back seat next to my darling niece. My heart melted and once again, the house felt too big and too empty…

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Puppy Love

Our sweet and awesome Great Pyrenees, Remi(ngton) recently had her first litter of puppies. After years of failed attempts at using different dogs as livestock guardians, we are so thankful for ‘the right tool for the right job’ as Bull Frog learned to say from Andy. We’d been given dogs in the past and had some wander onto our farms and they just never made the cut. Unfortunately, we lost our hard earned investments to the paws and jaws of some of those dogs and learned a million hard and painful lessons.

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We were discouraged because our stewardship of dogs was looking bleak and poor and our resolve was quite different than the mainstream’s opinion of keeping pooches on a pedestal. We just couldn’t do it. Dogs either have a place on our homestead where they work and provide protection or they don’t.

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We can’t keep dogs just for the sake of keeping them. They work just like every other animal we have, except for maybe the silkies which are purely entertainment. Silkie’s eggs are fine, but their meat is a bit too ‘gamey’ so they are strictly for fun, but they 100% free range and we put zero effort into keeping them alive, so they stay. Dogs on the other hand need regular maintenance, care and upkeep and finally, after years of failure in the canine department (ever tried using a golden retriever as a guard dog?) we have arrived!

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My first introduction to Great Pyrenees came when I had the awesome privilege of taking care of the sweetest heart with cerebral palsy. He had this big beautiful Great Pyrenees named Tosca who you just didn’t want to mess with. She was bonded to her boy and his mom like you wouldn’t believe. Tosca has now passed the baton to George since she’s gone to the grave, but meeting her and knowing her loyalty to her bond made a lasting impression.

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I loved her loyalty, confidence, gorgeous double coat and size. I loved that when she knew you were ‘approved’ by her master then she’d let her guard down a bit and I loved that my sweet charge had this beautiful guard dog by his side and now another one.

Fast forward a few years and Andy and I are married and farming. When you’re immersed into a culture, whatever it be (church, skateboarding, rock climbing, sustainable farming, other countries, etc) you learn the ways of the culture and the how tos and what nots. When we started farming, we dove in headfirst and with everything we had. We tried everything and then some, we read books, networked, watched videos, went to conferences, you name it. With that, came the big names of farm/ranch dogs and livestock guardian dogs: Anatolian Shepherds, Great Pyrenees, Blue Heelers, etc.

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We’d done lots of research and knew we needed a breed to protect our flocks and herds. We had donkeys (and still do) for the larger animals (milk cow and now beef cows), but we needed something protecting the sheep, the chickens and even the goats (although Andy would just as soon use goats as coyote bait-not truly but he and the goats butt heads-truly).

We needed a dog that would keep the other animals safe from predators like hawks, foxes, stray dogs, coyotes and we needed a dog that would be a well rounded asset and able to be versatile on the farm/homestead. Enter the Great Pyrenees.

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Y’all this story is getting long and I’m not sure where to cut it off or how much detail to go into, but I am just ecstatic about these dogs. I’m especially ecstatic because Family Tree Farm has 2 Great Pyrenees that we found last year from two breeders in North GA and we were recently given another one, who has helped train the other 2 and brought a ton of balance to the place. Remi hadn’t even worked a farm full-time when we got her! She is just that awesome!

We picked up Remi from Rockin H farm near Athens and you’d think she’d been born here when in fact, we are third (and final!) home! After all of our tried and failed attempts of assimilating other dogs to become livestock guardians and not chicken killers, we have finally succeeded! Finally!!!

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Our goals of breeding a line of dogs that will benefit the small homestead needing a dog to lookout for a variety of animals to the family wanting a dog to lookout for their children to the large farming operation needing a dog to protect their hundreds of pastured chickens or sheep or goats is coming to fruition. With the help of a strong, healthy sire and Remi’s field partner and Remi’s awesome genetics and temperament, we have our first litter of what we hope to be a long line of fantastic farm dogs: welcome to the world little pups! We are so glad you’re here!

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