Looming on the horizon

Lambing and weaving

Just recently we were fortunate enough to secure a table loom from a friend of ours that no longer uses it. It seems quite big, with lots of levers and winding bits, and we haven’t got a clue how it works!

Once lambing is over and we can start sleeping at night again, we should be able to stay awake long enough to do some research on it.

The lambing itself has been hard work, but very rewarding nonetheless. We’re half way there at the moment, and looking forward to the end. With only six ewes, you might wonder what all the fuss is about, but six or sixty, you still don’t know when the lambing will actually take place and we prefer to keep an eye on them if we can. We actually think that some of the ewes hold there lambs in so they can enjoy their hotel-like accommodation for as long as possible…

Still, if we want to have some wool for our new loom, we do need to put some effort in now!

Say cheese!

Learning to make our own cheese

Since we weaned Albert the calf from our goat, we have been milking said goat twice a day every day.

Subsequently it has been some time since we’ve bought milk, and more recently we have ventured into the exciting world of cheesemaking! Our cheese press, fashioned from some scrap wood and other bits and pieces welded together, is ideal for hard cheeses, and we have some nice looking Dunlop (a traditional Scottish cheese) and Cheddar on the go. Unfortunately it will be quite a while before we know if they have been successful as they take time to mature.

On the other hand, soft cheeses are ready a little sooner. One of our latest is Feta, which is stored in brine (pictured). Delicious!

We also hope our other goat is in kid, although it’s very near to the end of the mating season and we probably won’t know for some time if she’s pregnant. If we’re lucky, we could double our production of milk!

Our special Sophie

We lose our beautiful girl

2011 didn’t start off too well for us, with the tragic loss of our lovely GSD Sophie. She was a truly wonderful dog who joined us with her sister Amy over 10 years ago, and she was the matriarch of our pack.

Although getting older she was generally pretty healthy, but one day on a walk around the field she just lay down and seemed very cold. We brought her in to warm her up and she did rally, but the following day she collapsed in the kitchen. Wrapped in a blanket while we comforted her, she died in our arms. Quite typical of her to spare us from long term worry, and difficult decisions.

She will be sorely missed, not least for those defiant barks she used to deliver while looking us in the eye and ignoring our pleas for quiet!

RIP Sophie.

Soft soap

We try making our own soap

December has been quite busy, with poor weather giving us all kinds of problems. Deliveries (in and out!) have been interrupted and movement around the croft has been harder than usual. However, the animals all seem to be coping well, even if they are already looking forward to the warmer weather in Spring!

Since spending time outside has been less than attractive, we’ve turned our attention to pursuits indoors – including our first try at soap making.

Using lard (from our last pigs), goats milk, olive oil, and a little caustic soda (measured very accurately indeed!), we produced 3 blocks of soap, including one with added oatmeal ‘exfoliant’. Now cut into pieces it will need to cure for several weeks, but we’re looking forward to trying it out.

Woo hoo more snow

The snow catches us by surprise but the dogs love it

It was all going so well, and then suddenly there was a blanket of white. We knew it would happen sooner or later, but we just didn’t expect it to be in November!

Still, we can’t dwell on it. The sheep have been converged into a more sheltered area (this was due to happen anyway, but the snow gave us that little push), and we are well into the animal feeding cycle now. The main difficulty is that the feed has to be carried as the wheelbarrow can’t be pushed through, and the usual paths are quite deep. It makes otherwise quite straightforward tasks much more tiring.

On the plus side, we haven’t seen many muddy pawprints in the house! All the mud has either frozen or been covered over, leaving a nice clean play area for the dogs. They love it!

A wolf amongst sheep

Daisy the shepherd

As the evenings and mornings draw in, we’ve been busy as usual. Busier it seems, as shorter days always mean packing everything into a shorter time.

Our main event was harvesting the grapes from the polytunnel. We had hoped to do this sooner, but as usual there are other distractions. Still, eventually we managed to sort out 8 demijohns of wine – 7 red, and 1 white.

We would have had several more if we’d used a different recipe, but we do prefer the rich flavour that we get with this method. There’s no added water, juice only. Can’t wait to bottle it in the spring!

In the meantime, Daisy has become a good labour saving device in a slightly different ‘field’. As our nominated sheep dog, she helps us to move the sheep around more efficiently. She weaves around behind them according to our hand signals (not traditional, we realise), and they disappear back into their paddock without too much resistance.

It certainly saves a good deal of running and shouting on our part! Well done Daisy!

SmithyCraft

Working with wool

Since the weather over the last couple of months has been slightly less than perfect, we’ve been turning our attentions to more ‘indoor’ pursuits…

Using 100% wool, we have been practising our knitting, crocheting, felting, and needle felting skills, all in warm and dry comfort, and think we have produced some really lovely stuff.

We now have many more items than we could possibly use ourselves, and have created a new website to see if there is any interest in it. You can see for yourself at www.smithycraft.co.uk.

Where possible we have also been working with some of our own fleeces – washing and preparing them, and then dying them using natural dyes. And last month, we dusted off our spinning wheel, and have been spinning our own yarn too!

At the moment, we are only using our own fleece for needle felting (decorating the finished pieces), but depending on how things go, we hope to reduce our reliance on externally sourced wool, and use more of our own.

Whatever happens, we’re delighted with the progress we’re making, and it’s great fun too!

Cow and goat

Baling, calving and a co-operative goat

Our delight at cutting the grass in July lasted about 24 hours, after which it rained and rained and rained (and rained). We expected rain of course, but not as much as we got!

Eventually we managed to bale it, but due to a number of factors we got only 100 bales – about a third of what we were hoping for (and need). At least we managed to do it all with our own equipment this time, and mechanically speaking, everything worked a treat!

Meanwhile, Rosie, one of our Dexters, delivered a calf for us a week earlier than expected. This was her first calf, and although the birth was fine, regrettably she didn’t seem too keen on feeding it! After quite a lot of fiddling about, we admitted defeat and separated mother and calf, and started feeding him from a bottle. He is called Albert.

One of our local dairies supplied colostrum, and another was happy to give us fresh milk for a couple of weeks, but unfortunately Albert just hasn’t taken to bottle feeding at all.

Luckily, the goat kids are already eating solid food, so the most sensible solution was to separate them from the goat and let Albert suckle it instead (pictured). Unusual perhaps, but working nonetheless. Kids, calf, and goat are all doing beautifully!

We have kids

Our first kids

We have been extremely busy just lately..

At the end of June, one of our goats had kids (our first at the croft, due to some unfortunate timing last year). Everything obviously went without a hitch, as they were waiting for us in the pen one morning, newly born. They are doing extremely well.

We managed to harvest a small amount of goats milk for ourselves, and made some cheese. Delicious!

Our annual battle with the peats is finally over, all bagged and stored in the peat shed for another year. They should keep us going until the next time.

And, the grass is cut ready for baling. With the weather being even more unpredictable than usual, this is no mean feat!

Farewell to our beloved Blitz

We say goodbye to a true gentleman

At the beginning of June, and after a long battle with CDRM, we lost our beloved GSD Blitz. He was 12.

We took Blitz on as a rescue dog 9 years ago, and never regretted it. Even with several other GSDs in the ‘pack’ it took him several months to fully settle in, but after that he showed his true character – a gentle giant with a bark that could pierce the eardrums!

18 months ago he was diagnosed with CDRM, after we noticed him dragging his foot, and 6 months later a large mass was found in his abdomen. Neither was causing any discomfort, but over time his mobility did deteriorate. With careful management though, and one or two home made devices, he remained comfortable and happy to the end.

We miss him terribly, but are extremely thankful for the extra year he gave us.

RIP Blitz, you will always be with us.